Argentina win epic World Cup final against France on penalties

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Argentina have been crowned World Cup champions after beating holders France in a penalty shootout, as Qatar hosted the most memorable final in recent history.

Victory gave Argentina their third World Cup win, and provided a fitting finale for captain and talisman Lionel Messi — the most revered player of his generation and arguably the best footballer ever.

The game had ended 2-2 after 90 minutes, and 3-3 after extra time, with Messi scoring twice for Argentina, and Kylian Mbappé of France netting a hat-trick.

In the 23rd minute Messi gave Argentina the lead from the penalty spot, after a clumsy trip by French winger Ousmane Dembélé brought down Angel Di Maria. Argentina had enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges, and dominated possession.

French star man Mbappé struggled to get on the ball during the first half.

Di Maria doubled the lead barely 10 minutes later, deftly finishing off a rapid Argentina counter-attack. He wiped away tears on his way back to the half way line for the restart.

French coach Didier Deschamps responded with a double substitution on 39 minutes, bringing on Roland Kolo Muani and Marcus Thuram, son of Deschamps’ teammate Lilian Thuram from the World Cup-winning side of 1998.

The French, after struggling with an outbreak of flu in the days leading up the final, were poor for much of the game. They failed to register a single attempt on goal until midway through the second half.

But, with just over 10 minutes to go, a dramatic comeback began when Argentina defender Nicolás Otamendi pulled down Kolo Muani, giving France a penalty. Mbappé scored from the spot, taking the tie to 2-1.

The 23-year old then put France level less than two minutes later with a pinpoint volley into the bottom corner, leaving Argentina stunned.

Both sides pressed for a winner, but the game moved into extra time.

Well into the extra half-hour, Messi edged Argentina into the lead, tapping in a rebound after a save by French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. But a handball in the Argentina box with just minutes left gifted France a second penalty. Mbappé scored to complete his hat-trick.

Argentina won the shootout 4-2.

Messi was making his 26th appearance in a World Cup match, a record, in front of almost 89,000 fans inside Lusail — most of them supporting Messi’s Albiceleste.

Argentina’s World Cup campaign began with a shock 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia, but the team grew in confidence thereafter. After winning their quarter-final against the Netherlands in a penalty shootout, Argentina breezed past Croatia in the semi-final, beating the runners-up from four years ago 3-0.

The decision to host the world’s most-watched sporting event in Qatar has drawn years of scrutiny and criticism for the tiny Gulf state. The 12-year run-up has been dogged by allegations of corruption, questions over LGBT+ rights, and concerns about the treatment of the many thousands of migrant workers brought in to build the tournament infrastructure.

Qatar, the first Arab country to host a sporting mega-event, has spent more than $200bn on preparations for the month-long competition, much of it going on major projects, such as a new metro system, and on seven new air-conditioned stadiums.

For Fifa, the tournament has helped generate $7.5bn in revenue over the four-year cycle, up from $6.4bn from Russia 2018.

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