DOHA, Qatar (AFP) — Lionel Messi led Argentina to World Cup glory on Sunday, scoring twice against France in one of the all-time great finals with the South Americans holding their nerve to triumph in a penalty shootout.
Messi finally crowned his record-breaking career by claiming football’s biggest prize with a performance that will go down in World Cup history, scoring a first-half penalty and netting again in extra time.
France had fought back from 2-0 down in the last 10 minutes as Kylian Mbappe scored twice to equalize and force extra time in a pulsating match watched by an 89,000 crowd in Lusail Stadium.
Messi seemed to have decided the match in extra time with his second goal of the game before his Paris Saint-Germain teammate Mbappe completed only the second World Cup final hat-trick to bring the score to 3-3 and force penalties.
Gonzalo Montiel swept home the decisive spot kick to win the shootout 4-2 for Argentina — but this was Messi’s moment.
He had tasted bitter defeat in the 2014 final against Germany but in his fifth and final World Cup, the 35-year-old finally emulated Argentina idol Diego Maradona by leading his nation to World Cup glory. It was Argentina’s first win since Maradona’s victory in Mexico City in 1986.
Tens of thousands of blue and white-shirted Argentina fans rose to salute Messi as he told them “we’re champions of the world!” on the stadium microphone.
Later he told Argentine television: “Obviously, I wanted to finish my career with this. I can’t ask for any more,” he said.
“My career is coming to end because these are my final years. What more could there be after this?”
But he said he would continue with the Argentina squad. “I want to keep experiencing a few more matches as world champion,” he added.
There was an explosion of joy in Argentina, where millions of fans flooded the streets, singing and dancing in celebration.
An estimated two million people converged around the famed Obelisk in Buenos Aires as the party raged long into the night.
“It’s perfect,” said Agustin Acevedo, a 25-year-old construction worker who came to the capital to watch the final.
“Everything we’ve suffered has been worth it for this.”
International Football Federation will be delighted with a pulsating final that capped one of the most controversial World Cups in history, with the Qatari organizers having to face persistent questions about the country’s treatment of migrant workers and its laws on homosexuality.
Neutrals will be happy that Messi has finally won a World Cup.