Messi signs off in style as Argentina end long wait

Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates with teammates after winning the World Cup. Photo: Reuters/Dylan Martinez

Argentina regained the World Cup after a dramatic shootout win over France in the final as Lionel Messi realised a lifelong dream. The Argentine players kept their cool in the shootout after Kylian Mbappe had forced the penalties with a hat-trick in a pulsating final.

In the end, France's hopes of joining Italy and Brazil as the only teams to have won back-to-back titles met with a cruel end.

But there is no denying the fact Argentina were deserving champions as Messi signed off from the mega event in style. It was the third triumph for the South American giants and the first after Diego Maradona's exploits at Mexico 1986.

It looked like a familiar story when Lionel Scaloni's men slumped to a 2-1 loss at the hands of Saudi Arabia in their opening match ending a 36-match unbeaten streak. However, the stunning turnaround was orchestrated by Messi himself. His genius took them to the round of 16 and the great man continued to amaze. He scored in all four knockout games, including a brace in the final.

Argentina had other heroes too. Julian Alvarez notched up four goals, while Emiliano Martinez did the star turn in the shootout wins over the Netherlands in the quarterfinals and in the final. Angel Di Maria won a penalty and scored a goal in the title clash.

Emiliano Martinez
Emiliano Martinez turned Argentina's saviour in the shootout yet again. Photo: Reuters/Hannah Mckay

France came agonisingly close to repeating their success story of Russia 2018. Mbappe proved his quality in the big games. The Paris Saint-Germain star almost got them over the line in the summit clash.

Olivier Giroud went past Thierry Henry as France's all-time top-scorer during the course of the campaign, while Antoine Griezmann was the unsung hero. In the end one got the impression that Argentina desperately wanted the trophy, while the Les Bleus never really got going in the final till the late surge.

Qatar 2022 was also one of the most closely contested World Cups. There were plenty of shocks as European heavyweights Germany and Belgium failed to go past the group stage. Morocco sprang a big surprise by taking out Spain and Portugal in the per-quarterfinals and quarterfinals to become the first African team to make it to the semifinals. The Atlas Lions' dream run came to an end in the semifinals at the hands of France.

Croatia finished third. File photo: Twitter@FIFAWorldCup

Croatia proved their runner-up finish in the last edition at Russia 2018 was no flash in the pan as they stunned favourites Brazil in the quarterfinals. The Croats ended third as Luka Modric finished his World Cup career on a high.

Japan pulled off upset wins over Germany and Spain in the group stage. The Samurai Blue were unlucky to lose to Croatia on penalties in the round of 16.

Likewise, South Korea snatched a late win over Portugal to edge out Uruguay and advance to the knockout stage. Iran too scored an upset win over Wales in the group stage.

Finally, Qatar can take pride in organising a smooth World Cup and silencing the detractors. It was an absolute treat for the fans and Morocco's historic semifinal entry brought much joy to the Arab world. Qatar deserves a pat as curtain came down on one of the most memorable editions of the tournament.

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