In an incredible World Cup final on Sunday, Argentina defeated France 4-2 on penalties after Lionel Messi scored twice in a 3-3 tie and Kylian Mbappe notched a hat-trick to rescue the defending champions from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2.
The tournament’s two top players gave commanding performances on the largest platform possible, capping an epic night of drama, high emotion, and swinging fortunes with one of the all-time great finals.
Messi’s penalty and Angel Di Maria’s outstanding goal in the first half gave Argentina what appeared to be a one-sided victory, but Mbappe’s conversion of a penalty in the 80th minute and volley of a stunning equalizer a minute later forced extra time.
Messi gave Argentina the lead once more, but Mbappe equalized with another penalty, becoming the second player, after England’s Geoff Hurst in 1966, to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final.
Emiliano Martinez of Argentina stopped Kingsley Coman’s attempt in the shootout, while Aurelien Tchouameni missed.
Gonzalo Montiel, a replacement fullback who gave up the penalty for France’s third goal, was now given the opportunity for the ultimate atonement, which he duly accepted by coolly sending Hugo Lloris the wrong way.
It meant that Messi, 35, finally got his hands on the World Cup trophy after playing in a record-tying 26 World Cup games, five times in a row. This elevated him to the same status as Diego Maradona, Argentina’s first football god, who led his nation to their stirring second victory in 1986 after their first in 1978.
“I wanted to close my career with this, it was the one that was missing so I can no longer ask for anything else,” said Messi, who has played 172 times for his country.
“I was able to get the Copa America and now the World Cup that I had fought so hard for. I’ve got it at the end of my career. But I love football and I want to continue living a few more games being world champion.”
The triumph appears all the more unbelievable coming a month after his side fell to Saudi Arabia to start the tournament, which is statistically the greatest shock in World Cup history.