Making sense of the thrill-a-minute 2022 World Cup final
For Lionel Messi to achieve footballing immortality, and lay claim to the one honour that has evaded his grasp, it was never going to be straightforward. As Argentina led France 2-0 at the Lusail Iconic Stadium in Qatar, with the game seemingly petering out, Messi must have thought it was all too good to be true. Two quickfire Kylian Mbappe strikes later, and that suspicion was confirmed.
Football has a funny way of toying with its various pawns and pieces, dangling golden carrots which appear in easy reach before snatching them away once again. Messi and his teammates were made to work for their moment of glory. Even when the main man gave them the lead again in extra time, there was yet another twist in the shape of another Mbappe penalty to make it 3-3.
Penalty shootouts have been the scourge of Argentinean football in recent times, costing them two consecutive Copa America finals in 2015 and 2016, and you could have forgiven Messi for thinking that the footballing gods had one more dose of penalty pain to administer to him in this the biggest moment in his career.
There was no such agony. Messi and co. converted all of their penalties, sealing the glory that had looked inevitable 80 minutes into normal time, but now tasted all the sweeter for having been made to wait. There was no cruel twist this time, with Argentina’s slight edge in the football betting odds justified.
Messi had achieved his lifelong dream, and Argentina had climbed to the summit of world football for the first time since the late Diego Maradona inspired La Albiceleste to victory in Mexico in 1986.
With the tickertape having long settled, how can we reflect on the 2022 World Cup final? In many ways, it’s hard to see how the biggest sporting event on earth could have had a more entertaining finale. This was a rip-roaring match, and if someone had tuned in to watch the sport for the first time, they might as well never watch it again, as it’s unlikely to come close to matching the quality and drama on show in those few hours in Qatar.
Some might argue that a World Cup final should be a cagier affair, that a six-goal thriller is unbecoming for a game of such magnitude. Indeed, we were 10 minutes from this World Cup final being labelled as one of the worst in memory. Argentina seemed in complete control at 2-0 in front, coasting towards the final whistle with a minimum of fuss before pandemonium ensued late into proceedings.
This match was proof that the enduring appeal of football lies in its ability to produce moments, which stand out like stars against the 90-minute marathon of passes, tackles, free kicks and corners. Mbappe did just that to level the game with a superb flying volley, and for a time it seemed like he would prove to be the beneficiary of all the promised adulation — the young pretender usurping one of football’s all-time greats.
France found themselves playing the role of villain throughout the match, but you always felt that Messi would prove to be the hero, delivering the title that would bring undying joy to a nation. France had their moment four and a half years ago — this was Argentina’s moment.
It was fitting that Argentina, a nation that has given us such rich and contrasting characters in football’s ever-unfurling tapestry, should triumph after this most enthralling final. A whirlwind of chaos, supreme quality, ultimate ecstasy, and among the hundreds of thousands gathered around the Obelisk in Buenos Aires to watch history unfold, a collective thanksgiving.