After an incredibly dramatic month of football, Lionel Messi cemented his legendary status by carrying off the one trophy that had eluded him during a glittering career spanning nearly two decades. Sunday’s stupendous final brought the 2022 World Cup to a close in the most dramatic fashion. Two of the world’s superstars went toe to toe for 120 minutes and could not be separated. Young Kylian Mbappe, already a World Cup winner, came to life late in the final to remind people that the passing of the torch from the generation of Messi has already begun. Messi scored twice, participated in a flowing move for a third goal and converted his penalty kick. Mbappe matched that with a hat trick and a shootout conversion. The billion-plus viewers around the world got their money’s worth from this final with that epic duel.
Now, it’s time to sort out the aftermath. The French team received a joyous welcome at the Place de la Concorde on Monday. With President Emmanuel Macron leading cheers as the nation’s number one fan, the team saluted their supporters on a chilly Parisian evening. At the same time, Argentina flew home to enjoy a national holiday as champions. The whole country will shut down for a massive celebration. This comes after more than a million people gathered in Buenos Aires for a spontaneous party. For just a while, any domestic problems will be set aside as Argentina enjoys becoming the fourth country to win three World Cups.
Most of the world will go on praising Messi for ages, but pause for a moment and recognize the work of another Lionel. Lionel Scaloni had a lot of work to do to deliver this World Cup. Messi is 35 and not the player he was four years ago, eight years ago, or twelve years ago during his previous World Cup appearances. Scaloni had to build around him and find complimentary parts that would allow Messi to do what he does best. After an opening loss to Saudi Arabia, this World Cup win looked like a pipe dream. Scaloni had to tinker a little with his lineup and adjust the tactics to face what were on paper stronger opponents than Saudi Arabia.
That tinkering continued into the final. Scaloni assessed the weaknesses of the French team and for the first 70 minutes, Argentina attacked them relentlessly. He began by bringing veteran Angel di Maria back into the starting lineup after three games out. Di Maria lined up on the left for a change. Scaloni had two ideas here: 1) attack Jules Kounde, a center back playing out of position as a right back, and 2) holding Di Maria wide, on the touchline, to stretch the French defense and open the middle of the field where Messi likes to drift into small openings. The plan worked perfectly. French winger Ousmane Dembele failed to assist Kounde and when Kounde followed his natural instincts to slide to the middle, di Maria torched Dembele and earned a penalty.
Argentina also drew Antoine Griezmann out of the midfield with possession, forcing him to pick up a player he did not want to cover. When the Argentine defenders then beat him with a pass or dribble, the French midfield was outnumbered and had difficulty recovering the ball. This rendered Griezmann ineffective during his entire time on the field. Knowing that up to the final Griezmann had been one of the players of the tournament, Scaloni’s plan to nullify him was brilliant. The result was that Olivier Giroud received no supply of the ball and Mbappe remained a spectator.
French manager Didier Deschamps made a double switch after 41 minutes, but could have done so much earlier given Argentina’s dominance. Dembele and Giroud were so poor the French sports paper L’Equipe didn’t even give them a rating. Bringing on Marcus Thuram and Randal Kolo Muani stemmed the tide a bit. It was the next set of changes, when France reached desperation mode, that made more of an impact. Kingsley Coman and Eduard Camavinga brought renewed energy. That ignited Mbappe, whose two goals in less than two minutes lit up the final. From there on, it was real battle with both sides looking for a winning goal. Messi thought he had it. Mbapped hit back. Then, Emilio Martinez saved the World Cup. Messi will get all the glory, but Martinez’s save on Kolo Muani in the last minute of stoppage time before penalty kicks preserved the 3-3 tie. Had the youngster finished when put clean through on goal, the headlines would be much different. Martinez backed that up by saving one penalty and using intimidation to force Aurelien Tchouameni to shoot wide.
Both managers showed their worth. The superstars delivered a spectacle that some pundits are calling the best final ever. It certainly will last long in the memories of everyone who watched or attended. With all the joy and dramatic moments, there were things we could do without, though. Throughout the tournament, the sight of players dropping and rolling when barely touched in an attempt to con referees remains a scourge of the game. The players constant surrounding and hectoring of referees provided plenty of ugly moments, too. Martinez’s obscene gesture with the Golden Glove award for best goalkeeper on global television puts a nasty scar on his otherwise superb performance. Qatar’s blatant sportswashing and treatment of various social groups, including the censoring of clothing because of depictions of rainbows won’t be forgotten either. The American soccer community was left in shock at the sudden passing of longtime writer Grant Wahl during the Argentina-Netherlands quarterfinal battle. He was a giant voice among the media for the game domestically and globally. Touching tributes poured in from around the world.
Because this World Cup took place in winter, there will only be three and a half years until the world reconvenes in North America. The venues in the United States, Mexico, and Canada will have to receive their touchups, or in the case of BMO Field in Toronto, expansion to the minimum 45,000 capacity required. Grass fields for retractable dome stadiums across the United States will have to be grown. FIFA will have to figure out how to handle a 48 team tournament. It’s an unwieldy number that will change how qualifying is done and how the tournament itself will be organized. The format hasn’t be set for either qualifying or the tournament. That has to get done soon, because some of the early rounds of qualifying in Asia, CONCACAF, and even Africa will have to start by early 2024, if not fall 2023. For now, players are jetting back to the clubs all over the world for the resumption of domestic league and cup football. The United States will start preparing for the 2026 World Cup with a January training camp and friendlies against Serbia and Colombia. There is no certainty on who will be coaching the team yet, but the games roll on.
¡Argentina gana su tercer Mundial con una final espectacular!
En este inolvidable Mundial, Lionel Messi consolidó su estatus de leyenda al llevarse el único trofeo que se le había escapado de las manos, con una brillante carrera de casi dos décadas. Se culminó el Mundial Catar- 2022, después de casi un mes de intensos partidos de una manera épica, cuando dos de las superestrellas se enfrentaron cara a cara durante 120 minutos quedando empatados al final. El joven Kylian Mbappé, ya ganador de la Copa del Mundo, cobró vida para recordarle a la gente que el paso de la antorcha de la generación de Messi ya había comenzado. Messi anotó dos goles, y el tercero en penales. Mbappé lo igualó con un triplete en los penales. Los más de mil millones de espectadores de todo el mundo estallaron en júbilo en la final con ese duelo épico.