Lionel Messi, leading the Argentina team throughout the World Cup, has achieved his crowning glory and ascended to another plane, says football writer Michael Church.
LUSAIL, Qatar: Drama. So much drama. And in the end, history was made. Argentina have their third World Cup title, another star on their famous blue-and-white jersey. Lionel Messi’s status as the greatest player of his generation – as well as his place alongside Pele and Diego Maradona in the game’s pantheon – is assured.
That it was achieved in such thrilling, pulsating circumstances only adds to the significance. Like two heavyweights slugging each other to a standstill at the end of four gruelling weeks, Argentina’s World Cup final win over France at Lusail Stadium had everything.
It could all have been so different, so lacking in tension. But where would the fun have been in that?
With 15 minutes to go, Lionel Scaloni’s side were cruising. Two goals to the good after Messi’s penalty opened the scoring and Angel di Maria capping a rapid-fire counterattack from deep in Argentinian territory for the second, the Albiceleste had one hand wrapped around the trophy by halftime.
And then came Kylian Mbappe. The 23-year-old, gunning for a second World Cup title at such a young age, woke from the slumber that had afflicted him throughout much of the opening 80 minutes. Two goals in as many minutes ignited the night in a manner few expected.
Back and forth the blows rained through extra time. Last-ditch saves and another goal apiece for Messi and Mbappe set up the penalty shoot-out from which Argentina triumphed, Gonzalo Montiel sealing the win.
It was a knockout blow that unleashed a wave of emotion and underscored the legitimacy of Messi’s claim to be seen as the best player of his era and, perhaps, of all time. Such arguments across generations are often spurious, impossible to define for immeasurable reasons.
But Messi’s status as the greatest of the 21st century is now unquestioned. As Cristiano Ronaldo, the only other realistic contender for the title, pouted and preened on his way out the exit door following Portugal’s quarter-final departure, Messi galvanised his team.
Seven goals in seven games, becoming the first player to score in every phase of the World Cup – the group stage, round of 16, quarter-finals, semi-finals and final – highlight that the 35-year-old is still breaking records. Messi has not taken to his easy chair during the later stages of his career.
He has been driven throughout Qatar 2022. His crucial goal in the 2-1 win against Australia in the Round of 16 was a trademark strike. His mesmerising run to set up Julian Alvarez for the third against Croatia, turning the highly rated Josko Gvardiol inside out in the process, showed his ageless quality.
On Sunday, Montiel’s decisive spot-kick to confirm Argentina’s 4-2 shoot-out win was an almost nonchalant effort, belying the tension. A moment of disbelief hung in the air before euphoria swept through Lusail Stadium and across the majority of the 90,000-strong crowd.
Argentina have done it. Messi, the leader of a team that had so often been in his service throughout this World Cup, has achieved his crowning glory. Victory sees him ascend to another plane.
Messi is now able to take his place alongside Maradona as an Argentinian icon and a World Cup-winning great. There will be no caveats, he has matched his hero’s achievements for the national team, having long ago surpassed Maradona’s record at club level during his golden period with Barcelona.
It all meant Qatar 2022 concluded with a stunning finale, far beyond expectations at a tournament that had to overcome criticism over an abundance of reasons. The hosts were ultimately blessed by a game for the ages, capping a World Cup beyond compare.
In the end, though, the night belonged to Argentina and in particular to Messi, who now can add the World Cup to his four UEFA Champions League titles, 11 domestic league crowns in Spain and France and seven Ballon D’Or. Beat that Cristiano!
Michael Church is a sports journalist with over 25 years of experience covering Asian football.
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Commentary: World Cup victory cements Messi as best football … – CNA