The GOAT: Messi delivers World Cup to Argentina with defining performance in final

It was Lionel Messi's World Cup. With almost 80 minutes gone in Sunday's final and Argentina leading 2-0, the 35-year-old looked destined to lift the trophy while capturing both the Golden Boot and Golden Ball — a clean sweep of everything on the GOAT's World Cup swan song.

Then, in 97 seconds of Kylian Mbappé-inspired madness over the 80th and 81st minutes, France pulled level with Messi's PSG teammate scoring from the spot before unleashing a 15-yard side-volley for the equalizer. 

In extra time, Messi again made the World Cup his own with a potential winner in the 108th minute, but Mbappé again converted a penalty in the 118th minute for a 3-3 scoreline.

Messi's World Cup odyssey would end in a shootout. Mbappé converted France's first but Messi immediately responded. Then Kingsley Coman and Aurélien Tchouaméni faltered for France while all three Argentina players that followed Messi converted — including a sensationally redemptive clincher from Gonzalo Montiel.

Embed from Getty Images

Messi no longer had the clean sweep of awards with Mbappé taking the Golden Boot, but Messi got the Golden Ball and the only trophy that really matters. Argentina had navigated the greatest World Cup final ever to earn it.

Messi had given Argentina the lead in the 23rd minute from the penalty spot and then played a vital role in Ángel Di María's second for La Albiceleste in the 36th. France was never going to shut Messi down in his current form, but Les Bleus allowed him far too much influence in the opening 45.

From arrival at Lusail Stadium to the dressing room, Messi was locked in. 

But there wasn't any sense of nerves as La Pulga prepared for his sixth major international final. 

With reportedly over 50,000 Argentina supporters in the stadium and roughly 6,000 for France, it was clear that Messi and company would be able to feed off the energy of the crowd. The big news in Argentina's starting lineup was that Di María returned despite only playing eight minutes in the knockout rounds, but the biggest cheer was reserved for Diego Maradona's heir.    

And of course they had to play "Live Is Life" during warmups, but Messi didn't emulate Maradona's classic routine.  

By setting foot on the pitch, Messi already made history — his 26th World Cup appearance took him one clear of Germany's Lothar Matthäus for most all-time. 

Argentina's anthem was hair-raising.  

We don't have video of Messi's pre-match speech yet, but it must've hit like his 2021 Copa América Final rouser because Argentina came flying out of the traps. Messi's first touch came with 2:15 on the clock. He immediately began combining well with Rodrigo De Paul and Alexis Mac Allister while spraying a couple wide for Di María with his historical partner in crime looking incredibly sharp.   

There were a couple pained looks from Argentina's captain by the 17th minute as his side's dominance in the final third ended with a couple promising attacks breaking down without the final pass. 

However, in the 22nd minute, Di María came through again for Argentina by dicing Ousmane Dembélé out wide before getting clipped by the Frenchman for a penalty.  

Messi stepped up, analyzed Hugo Lloris on his strange patch of relaid turf, waited for the goalkeeper to commit and then rolled his finish the other way. In doing so, Messi became the first man to score in the last-16, quarterfinals, semifinals and final of a World Cup. It doesn't get any more decisive than that. 

The Messi family loved it. 

Then, in the 36th minute, Messi played a big role in Argentina's second. With three defenders converging around him, Messi's flick found Julián Álvarez and he immediately relseased Mac Allister. 

Mac Allister squared across the face of goal for Di María to finish.   

Argentina was in command. Their passing network was slick with an emphasis on team play in the first half.

Argentina HT passing network

Argentina's passing connections in the opening 45. Photo:

France looked disjointed, nervous and strangely passive. So much so that Didier Deschamps took out Olivier Giroud and Dembélé before halftime. France created 0.00 xG in the opening 45.

France HT passing network

France's first half passing connections. This is not what you want. Photo:

The first 15 minutes of the second half were no different with Argentina looking for a third, but Lionel Scaloni started to look at defending the lead in the 64th with full back Marcos Acuña replacing Di María.

France finally attempted a couple shots around the 70th minute, but Emiliano Martínez remained untroubled in goal until disaster struck in the 80th and 81st minutes. 

Nicolás Otamendi dragged Randal Kolo Muani to the ground in the area and France had a penalty in the 80th. Mbappé beat Martínez with pace into the bottom corner to pull France within one. Then, just one minute later, Mbappé took control of the Golden Boot race with a sensational equalizer.

The match had forgotten about Messi. However, deep in second-half stoppage time, Messi stung the palms of Lloris with an effort from outside the box.

We had extra time.

Messi had gotten big performances out of his fellow attackers, and it looked like Lautaro Martínez was going to give Argentina the lead in the first 15 minutes on a couple occasions but Dayot Upamecano intervened.

So after El Toro had another effort saved in the 108th, Messi did it himself. Argentina's captain was right there to pound the rebound home — confirmed by goal-line technology.

Again Messi and Argentina were in control of everything. Again they lost it — this time in the 118th minute. Mbappé forced the penalty with an attempted shot from the edge of the area that Montiel blocked with his arm. Mbappé converted the spot kick for a World Cup final hat-trick.

Somehow we went to penalties after Emi Martínez pulled off a miraculous one-on-one save against Kolo Muani. At the other end, El Toro headed wide from Montiel's redemption-seeking cross. 

We had just witnessed the greatest World Cup final of all-time.

Mbappé beat Martínez from the spot for the third time to open the shootout, but Messi converted Argentina's first.

Then it was time for Martínez to work his magic. Messi called him a "phenomenon" for his shootout performances at the Copa América, and the 30-year-old delivered again. 

There were no tears from Messi after the triumph, just pure jubilation.

Embed from Getty Images

Messi then claimed the Golden Ball award before lifting the trophy with his team.

Messi lifts World Cup trophy

Videos you might like