Messi lifts World Cup at last as Argentina beat France on penalties

Lusail, Qatar, Dec 18, (dpa/GNA) – Argentina’s Lionel Messi, scored a brace and also in the deciding shoot-out, to win the World Cup at last for Argentina on Sunday, 4-2 on penalties over France, after a 3-3 deadlock in a drama-filled and record-breaking 120 minutes of play.

Gonzalo Montiel converted the deciding spot kick, after goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, had saved from Kingsley Coman, and Aurelien Tchounameni had aimed wide for the defending champions France.

Messi had opened the scoring with a 23rd-minute penalty, after Angel di Maria was clipped by Ousmane Dembele, and then also poked home for 3-2 in the 108th.

He was also part of a superb counter attack, which the lively Di Maria, back in the starting 11, completed for 2-0 in the 36th as Argentina seemed well in control.

But like in their quarter-final against the Netherlands, which they won on penalties, Argentina failed to protect the lead over 90 minutes.

France roared back in the closing stages from a brace by Messi’s Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Kylian Mbappe, an 80th minute penalty and a volley a minute later, and he then struck from the spot again in the 118th, to force the shoot-out where he was also flawless.

Mbappe became only the second player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final, the fifth to score in back-to-back finals, and tournament top scorer in Qatar with eight goals.

But it was to no avail as Messi, lifted the trophy after a World Cup record 26th match appearance, during which he became the first player to score in every stage of one tournament, finishing one behind Mbappe on seven goals.

He emulated Diego Maradona, as Argentina won the World Cup for a third time, having also triumphed in 1978 and 1986. They lost finals in 1930, 1990 and 2014, with Messi and Di Maria the only remaining members of the squad from eight years ago.

Argentina were shocked 2-1 by Saudi Arabia in their opening match on November 22, which ended an unbeaten run of 36 games, highlighted by the Copa America title last year.

They rebounded strongly and gave South America a first title since Brazil in 2002, ending a run of European teams to four titles in a row.

France had been bidding to join Italy (1934 and 1938) and Brazil (1958 and 1962), as back-to-back champions, but failed to win the trophy again they had lifted in 1998 and 2018, as they finished second as in 2006, when they had also lost on penalties to Italy.

Les Bleus, who had been plagued by a virus in recent days but had their strongest starting 11, never really got into the game, but showed great fighting spirit to make the final one of the best in tournament history.