Argentina beat France 3-3 (4-2) in penalties to win their third World Cup title at the Lusail Stadium in Qatar on Sunday.
On the other hand, Kylian Mbappe became only the second player after England’s Geoff Hurst in 1966 to score a hat trick in a World Cup final. The final was an all-time classic that captivated spectators till the end, and it was befitting that the match was decided by a penalty shoot-out.
On that note, here are three things that stood out in the match:
Argentina dominated first half with intense pressing
Argentina started the match on a strong note, dominating ball-possession from the very beginning. Somewhat surprisingly, France were almost meek in the first half and allowed the Argentines to take charge of the proceedings.
Argentina started the match in a 4-4-2 formation, with Di Maria starting on the left flank and Messi and Julian Alvarez as the two strikers. France, meanwhile, opened with their customary 4-3-3, with Dayot Upamecano replacing Ibrahima Konate from the 11 that started against Morocco.
France would definitely have anticipated the threat posed by Messi through the inside-right channel, but the decision to start Di Maria, who prefers to play on the right, on the left flank must have startled them. It turned out to be a masterstroke by Lionel Scaloni, as Di Maria tormented the French defense by cutting in from the left flank repeatedly.
Argentina also earned a penalty following one of Di Maria’s surging runs into the box, as the former was pushed from behind by Ousmane Dembele. Messi scored his sixth goal of the tournament from the spot.
Argentina’s pressing and snatching were also top-notch in the first half, as they repeatedly won the ball back in the middle third almost immediately after losing possession. The presence of defensive midfielders like Rodrigo De Paul, Alexis Mac Allister and Enzo Fernandez meant that France were not given any breathing space in the midfield.
Argentina’s next goal came through a wonderful counter-attack that consisted of a number of one-touch passes before Mac Allister played a pass to an onrushing Di Maria, who made no mistake in slotting the ball home.
France bounced back in second half through substitutions
France responded like true champions in the second half. Didier Deschamps had taken off an ineffective Olivier Giroud and Dembele in favor of Marcus Thuram and Randal Kolo Muani in minute 41 and it began to pay off. The move injected much-needed pace and impetus into their attack.
France also started playing longer passes and crosses into the box to negate Argentina’s press. The defending champs gradually increased numbers in the Argentine half by playing with a high defensive line as well.
Deschamps then came up with two more substitutions in a desperate attempt to restore parity. The surprisingly docile Antoine Griezmann was taken off and Kingsley Coman was introduced. Eduardo Camavinga replaced Theo Hernandez at left-back as France switched to a 4-4-2 with Mbappe and Kolo Muani upfront and Coman and Thuram on the flanks.
Jules Kounde started going into overlaps more often and combined with Coman to launch France’s attacks through the right. Kolo Muani and Thuram also made a few diagonal runs into the box to pile on the pressure and Adrien Rabiot started venturing forward more often.
The effects were quickly evident as Coman’s runs, Camavinga’s defending and the lurking presence of Kolo Muani and Mbappe started putting pressure on Argentina’s defense as France began to have quick build-ups. One was forced to ponder whether Deschamps should have started with Dembele instead of Coman in the first place.
Kolo Muani then earned a penalty as he was fouled inside the box by Nicolas Otamendi and Mbappe fired home to reduce the deficit. Just 97 seconds later, the 23-year-old equalized with a brilliant side-volley after a quick exchange with Rabiot. Prior to that, Coman had dispossessed Messi with a vital interception.
Drama continued in extra-time; Argentina wins shoot-out
The match then went into the extra-time, which again saw Argentina trying to wrest the initiative by playing quick passes. Scaloni, who had earlier taken off Di Maria for Marcos Acuña, then introduced Leandro Paredes and Lautaro Martinez to shake things up.
Martinez’s introduction helped Argentina as the Inter Milan man beat the offside trap on a number of occasions and made a few darting runs at the French goal. He was denied brilliantly on a couple of occasions by Upamecano as the French tried to keep a strong vigil on him.
Still, they could not stop Argentina from taking the lead again. Martinez made yet another run after a through ball was played to him and his shot was then parried by Hugo Lloris only for Messi to tap home from point-blank range.
Just as it seemed that Argentina had won the World Cup, France again showed their mettle. Gonzalo Montiel handled the ball inside the box to stop a goal-bound shot and the referee pointed to the spot for the third time in the evening.
Mbappe scored again to register his hat-trick as the match went into penalties. Kolo Muani had a golden opportunity to seal the deal in the dying minutes of the match, but his shot from close range was saved by Emiliano Martinez.
Coman and Aurelien Tchouameni missed from the spot, while Argentina converted each of their four shots. In a bit of redemption, Montiel converted the clinching penalty shot, earning Argentina the World Cup for the third time with the most important kick of his life. The Golden Boot for Mbappe, however, was the sole consolation for the French.