It was a match made in heaven. Pitting two of football’s greatest teams today – the best of the Americas versus the best of Europe. Set fittingly on a neutral corner in that desert paradise of Qatar.
Argentina, the Copa America champion, with no less than that maestro now elevated to soccer sainthood, Lionel Messi, leading the pack. France, the reigning World Champions, counter-striking with football’s version of the Black Panther, Kylian Mbappe, with his unworldly speed, stealth and strength.
Messi would draw first blood with a masterful penalty kick on the 23rd minute. He would later orchestrate a great breakaway goal by Angel De Maria on the 36th minute to give Argentina a comfortable 2-0 lead at the end of the half. The Argentines would continue their aggression in the 2nd half, keeping the French forces on the defensive foot for most of the period.
But just as los gauchos de Argentina started to relax with time running out, France would launch a blitz attack on the 80-minute mark, resulting in a penalty kick that Mbappe would convert. It is 2-1, with Les Bleus now back within striking distance! Sacre Bleu!!!
And then, barely a minute later, that panther Mbappe would strike again! With a scorching kick on a give-and-go on the 81st minute, to tie the score 2-2! There is pandemonium heard across the world, as millions cried with joy, while millions more cringed in horror.
With less than 9 minutes left, Argentina was jolted and now faced the possibility of a monumental collapse. Another 9 minutes, and that elusive crown would have been theirs. Nine long, agonizing minutes, and the French would be toast!
But no, the gods would not have any of it. That last 8 minutes of regulation time was filled with breathtaking drama and wild excitement, as both teams frantically launched near-death, all-out assaults which almost provided positive results on both ends of the pitch. It was tit for tat, it was boom and bang. But all to no avail.
When extra time started, the Argentines regained their composure and went serious goal-hunting once again. France, on the other hand, contented itself with lightning offensive jabs, waiting for the golden opportunity to present itself.
Finally, on the 108th minute, Messi would convert on a rebound play, off a parried shot by fresh sub, Lautaro Martinez. It is 3-2, with the La Albiceleste grabbing the lead once again! To the frenzy of the Argentine fans all over the world. And the utter horror of the French fans. Avance, Argentina! And with just 12 minutes of extra time remaining, it looked like the gauchos would bag it finally.
But again, Mbappe would will Les Bleus du Combat back into the game. With time down to 7 minutes, Mbappe would ignite another wicked whacker that is touched by Gonzalo Montiel. Mbappe would convert the penalty, forcing yet another tie at 3-all! There is pandemonium! It is his third goal of the game, and it is only the 2nd ever hat-trick in a World Cup Final! The French faithful go wild once again. An ocean away, the Argentinians are silenced once more.
Truly, this game is not for the faint of hearts, as more fast and furious action explode on the pitch. It is like witnessing the last 2 surviving gladiators in the Roman arena – both bloodied but unbowed – eager to unleash the final, fatal blow on the other. This is a war to the death, and both magnificent warriors are exhausted and desperate to end victorious for fame and glory.
But after 125 minutes of play, the score remains tied at 3-3. And so, it is time for the penalty shootout. In the end, it is only the penalty kick that will resolve the impasse between these two great, yet diverse teams. From hereon, it will be 1-on-1 between the striker and the goalie.
Eight booming shots are fired, four on each side. And as the smoke of battle clears, it is the Argentines who remain standing. The score stands at 4-2 for Argentina, with no need for the final, 5th shots.
Argentina!!! With Messi getting the Golden Ball, awarded to the Best Player of the game. With the irreverent Emi Martinez winning the Golden Glove for the Best Goalie of the tournament. And with Enzo Fernandez winning the Young Player of the Tournament award. Mbappe’s heroic efforts – scoring 3 goals in the Finals, plus 1 in the penalty shoot – rewarded him with the Golden Boot, for the most number of goals in the tournament.
Messi, who for years have won so many accolades but has never won a World Cup, has finally crowned himself the King of Football. In the sunset of his years, he rides gloriously with head held high. And Mbappe, he with the Black Panther speed and stealth? He is the sunrise, giving hope for a bright sunny day. Watch out for him, for he is sure to explode on your screen in the years to come.
Indeed, this year’s World Cup has been a physically and emotionally draining, yet totally satisfying experience for everyone. With its ebbs and flows, the turning tides, the daring drives, the nifty passes, the missed opportunities, the spectacular saves; and with the greatest player ever, and the successor on the rise. The game will go down in history as a clear winner; with all the drama, the emotions, the love, the hate, the beauty, the glory and splendor of a game that truly epitomize life itself. Truly epic!
For a clearer view, just click on the pics. Cover photo courtesy of ABC. Other photos, courtesy of Sportsnet, Fox Chattanooga, BBC, Sporting Life, EWN, RNZ, Football 365 and LAD Bible.