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Ligue 1

Key questions, tactical analysis, and predictions for World Cup semifinals

And then there were four. After a dramatic quarterfinal round, the World Cup nears its climax with a pair of intriguing semifinals this week. Below, we examine the key questions and tactical battles that’ll determine which two nations will meet in the Dec. 18 final, along with a prediction for each game.

Argentina vs. Croatia

  • Date: Tuesday, Dec. 13 (2 p.m. ET)
  • Venue: Lusail Iconic Stadium
  • Betting odds: Croatia +380; Argentina -125

How much juice does Croatia have left?

Were this any other team, conventional wisdom would suggest it would run out of steam at some point soon. But we’re long past the point of thinking Croatia has exerted its last ounce of force. Somehow, there’s always something left in the tank.

“We showed that we have strength of character and that we never give up,” manager Zlatko Dalic said after the improbable shootout win over Brazil, in which Croatia’s lone shot on target was its extra-time equalizer in the 116th minute. Yet again, Luka Modric and his wily compatriots dug that little bit deeper. Yet again, it was enough to keep the run going.

Eight of Croatia’s last nine knockout matches at major tournaments have gone to extra time, including both games in Qatar, which also required penalties. Just the thought of that is exhausting. But Croatia seems to relish the grind. “It’s almost as if our opponents know they are going to lose when they get into a penalty shootout against us,” Dalic said. That aura is undeniable.

Visionhaus / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Whereas some teams would crumble under the mental fortitude needed to keep pushing your body and mind to the limit, and beyond, every single game, Croatia – and particularly its 37-year-old leader Modric – just soldier on.

There was a moment against Brazil in extra time when the relentless midfielder won a loose ball, wriggled through two Brazilian players as if bursting through a yellow cloud, and ran roughly 50 yards before passing the ball off to Bruno Petkovic. The big striker immediately ceded possession. Modric, though perturbed, dipped into the Fountain of Youth again, turned on a dime, and raced back into defensive position, ready to do it all over again.

Breaking that resolve will be a huge test for Argentina.

Can Argentina keep its cool?

Argentina’s tempestuous quarterfinal clash with the Netherlands had absolutely no business going into extra time. When Lionel Messi doubled his team’s advantage from the penalty spot in the 73rd minute, it should have been curtains for the Dutch.

But Argentina, rattled by Wout Weghorst, of all people, self-destructed in normal time. Leandro Paredes, brought on to bring more control in midfield, lost his head, riling up the opposition. German Pezzella, introduced to add more solidity to the backline, gave away a needless foul that led to Weghort’s ingenious equalizer in the 101st minute. Yes, card-happy referee Mateu Lahoz was partly to blame for the sheer chaos of the match, but Argentina allowed itself to get sucked into the scrap and oftentimes initiated the commotion.

Clive Brunskill / Getty Images Sport / Getty

It was exactly the opposite of what Lionel Scaloni’s team needed to do under the circumstances. Even Messi, who has developed a spikiness to his game that was notoriously absent in his younger years, was in a feisty mood.

That type of attitude can obviously be beneficial if channeled correctly. But against a battle-tested Croatian side, which absolutely will not be intimidated or thrown off-kilter by anything, Argentina needs to simply trust that having a more talented side – led by Messi, who appears to be on a mission in Qatar – will be enough to get back to the World Cup final.

Key battles to watch

Kovacic vs. Messi: As Messi ages and continues to bide his time in matches, waiting for the perfect opportunity to burst into life, the onus is increasingly on the opposing midfielders, not the defenders, to slow him down; Messi can finish attacking moves himself, of course, but he’s also the chief orchestrator for Argentina, dropping deeper to initiate the attack. The first line of defense on Tuesday will likely be Mateo Kovacic. The 28-year-old is a mesmerizing dribbler in his own right, but his dogged defensive effort is an underrated part of his game. Against Brazil, Kovacic was everywhere, tirelessly tracking runners, making tackles, and winning possession back. He’ll need to replicate that performance. If Messi does manage to break free, he’ll then have to contend with man-mountain Josko Gvardiol, who has been the best central defender in the tournament thus far.

Juranovic vs. Tagliafico: There were times in the quarterfinal win over Brazil when Croatian right-back Josip Juranovic, against all the odds, looked like the best player on the pitch. It was equal parts confounding and impressive watching Juranovic shut down Vinicius Junior at one end and then race up the pitch in the other direction to provide Croatia’s most credible attacking threat from the right flank. With Marcos Acuna suspended for the semifinal due to yellow card accumulation, Argentina will likely insert Nicolas Tagliafico at left-back, barring an unexpected change in shape and system from Scaloni. Tagliafico, more sound defensively but not as adventurous as Acuna going forward, hasn’t started since the Albiceleste’s stunning loss to Saudi Arabia in their opening match. He’s clearly not the first choice. Croatia will likely allow Argentina to have the ball for large portions of the match, but when it gets turned over, Juranovic could find some joy on his side of the pitch.

Prediction: Argentina wins 2-1 in extra time

France vs. Morocco

  • Date: Wednesday, Dec. 14 (2 p.m. ET)
  • Venue: Al Bayt Stadium
  • Betting odds: Morocco +550; France -190

Can Amrabat hold hobbled team together?

Morocco’s historic run to the semifinals has been inspirational on several fronts. The first African team to ever reach this stage at the men’s World Cup – the first Arab nation, too – is being buoyed not only by spectacular crowd support in Qatar but by neutrals everywhere who have been swept up by the Atlas Lions’ galvanizing victories over some of Europe’s perennial titans.

Unless you’re French, you’re likely rooting for Walid Regragui’s team right now. And why not? There’s so much to love about this underdog side. The players are using their platform to speak up after each match. They invite their families and friends onto the pitch to dance and celebrate their victories. Despite an airtight defense being the foundation of the team, there are also spellbinding individual talents like Hakim Ziyech, Sofiane Boufal, and Azzedine Ounahi who can brighten up matches at any moment with a dazzling nutmeg or mazy dribble. You might think a team that has only conceded once – an own goal, at that – and scored just five times in as many matches isn’t the most entertaining to watch. Not the case. Morocco is genuinely fun.

Soccrates Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

But it’s also being held together by duct tape and adrenaline right now. Three of the four starting defenders are injured; captain Romain Saiss, playing through an ailment, couldn’t last 90 minutes against Portugal. Noussair Mazraoui and Nayef Aguerd might miss the semifinal. Superstar Achraf Hakimi and primary scoring threat Youssef En-Nesyri appear worse for wear.

Beating the reigning World Cup champion amid all those fitness concerns might be a step too far. To pull off its biggest upset yet, Morocco will need combative midfielder Sofyan Amrabat to deliver yet another monstrous performance in the center of the pitch. Unyielding and irrepressible, the Fiorentina man was colossal against Portugal, delivering arguably the best showing of any individual player in Qatar. Can he do it again?

Will France be more adventurous?

“We played a superb England team who are strong technically and physically,” France coach Didier Deschamps said after Les Bleus’ slim quarterfinal win over the Three Lions. “We got a bit lucky although we gave away two penalties. We kept our lead with our hearts and our guts.”

He’s right on all counts.

France, objectively the most talented team at the World Cup, got outplayed by England. It survived to keep its title defense alive despite sleepwalking through a large of chunk of the match. Having brilliant individuals with big-game experience and nous makes that possible. Benefitting from an incomprehensible Harry Kane penalty miss doesn’t hurt, either.


How will the flow of that game impact Deschamps’ approach to the semifinal? Will the conservative tactician try to lock things down and ask Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud, and Ousmane Dembele to simply make some magic happen? Or will France play on the front foot and try to steamroll its undermanned and ailing opponent?

At this point, questioning Deschamps and demanding that he fosters a more expansive style of play is of little value. That was clear four years ago, and the same is proving true in Qatar. Ultimately, the final result is all that matters, no matter how it’s procured. France can win in a variety of ways.

Key battles to watch

Hakimi vs. Mbappe: Across both semifinals, no individual matchup has the potential to be as explosive as this clash between the pair of Paris Saint-Germain teammates and friends. Mbappe, coming off an uncharacteristically subdued performance against England where he was, for the most part, neutralized by Kyle Walker, now has to contend with Hakimi, who he has previously dubbed the best right-back on the planet. How Hakimi and Morocco approach the matchup will be interesting. Walker almost exclusively stayed at home against France, sitting back and shadowing Mbappe to make sure he couldn’t get out in open space when England lost the ball. The offshoot, of course, was that he couldn’t contribute to the attack – the one time he did venture forward, France, led by Mbappe, went the other way to score. Morocco will continue to use its well-drilled low block, but Hakimi’s lively dashes into the opposing penalty area are a critical part of the African team’s attacking arsenal. Can Morocco generate offense without that? Will Regragui risk leaving Mbappe some space if it means giving Hakimi freedom to get forward when there’s an opening? And will we get to see a flat-out foot race between the two speedsters at any point?

El Yamiq vs. Giroud: At this point, it seems unlikely that both Saiss and Aguerd will be fit for Wednesday’s encounter. There’s a real chance that both could miss the match. Morocco’s depth will, once again, be tested. One thing is certain, though: If tasked with starting, Jawad El Yamiq will be up for the fight. The imposing center-back was immense against Portugal, making a game-high 10 clearances, winning three aerial duels, and blocking two shots. Every time Portugal launched the ball into the penalty area, the formidable presence of El Yamiq seemed to be there, rising up to send the ball back from where it came and celebrating each header like a goal of his own. In Olivier Giroud, he’ll face his toughest challenge yet. France’s all-time leading scorer, now getting the recognition he deserves, is a craftsman inside the penalty area. His clever movement to find space and power home the winning goal against England in the last round was a perfect example. Any lapse in concentration from El Yamiq, and Giroud will pounce.

Prediction: France wins 1-0 in normal time

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Ligue 1

Team of the tournament: Best XI at 2022 World Cup

With the 2022 World Cup coming to an end, theScore assembles the competition’s best lineup with the tournament’s top-performing stars.

Emiliano Martinez ??

Whenever Argentina needed him, he was there. That statement is true of Lionel Messi, of course, but it also applies to Martinez, who rescued his team on multiple occasions en route to winning the World Cup. When Australia had a chance to equalize in the last 16, Martinez stood tall. When the Netherlands threatened to complete an improbable comeback in a shootout, Martinez stepped up. And when France had a golden opportunity to rip the title away in the final with almost the last kick of extra time, Martinez was there, making one of the biggest saves in tournament history.

Honorable mention: Dominik Livakovic (Croatia)

Theo Hernandez ??

Hernandez made his World Cup debut when Lucas, his older brother, tore his ACL. Lucas suffered the injury on the play that led to Australia’s shocking opener against France, leaving Theo as the obvious replacement at the left-back position. Theo wasted no time, needing just 14 minutes to set up the equalizer, and spent the rest of that 4-1 win commanding that left flank. Theo consolidated his place in the starting lineup, and after conceding a cheap penalty in the quarterfinals, the AC Milan full-back recovered to score early in the semifinal against Morocco.

Honorable mention: Aziz Behich (Australia)

Josko Gvardiol ??

DeFodi Images / DeFodi Images / Getty

Gvardiol already reads the game like a grizzled veteran at the age of 20, and his intimidating physicality – he’s broad-shouldered, 6-foot-1, and a fierce competitor – is paired with supreme ability with the ball at his feet. Only France’s Aurelien Tchouameni produced more interceptions at the World Cup than Gvardiol, and the defender ranked third for total passes by a Croatian behind Marcelo Brozovic and Luka Modric. RB Leipzig were already demanding a huge transfer fee for Gvardiol, but his price tag has skyrocketed courtesy of his authoritative showings in Zlatko Dalic’s backline.

Honorable mention: Nathan Ake (Netherlands)

Nicolas Otamendi ??

Only two outfield players featured in every single minute of Argentina’s victorious World Cup campaign. You can probably guess the first one, but Otamendi likely wouldn’t immediately come to mind as the other. The veteran defender, 34, was ever-present for Lionel Scaloni’s team, anchoring a rugged backline in what was likely his final World Cup. Once a rash and undisciplined player susceptible to glaring mistakes, Otamendi was the most tranquil of Argentina’s defenders in Qatar, trading in wild tackles for well-timed interceptions that helped the Albiceleste get on the front foot.

Honorable mention: Harry Maguire (England)

Achraf Hakimi ??

Hakimi’s lung-busting runs down the right usually draw the most attention, but he was a defensive rock in Qatar. He led the tournament with 26 completed tackles and produced the third-most interceptions by a defender (nine). That’s not to write off his work as unadventurous: He attempted 15 dribbles and was Morocco’s second-most creative player with six key passes. The 24-year-old’s confidence was overflowing as one of Morocco’s main men, and he cheekily downed Spain – where he was born and raised – with a Panenka penalty to conclude the shootout in the round of 16.

Honorable mention: Josip Juranovic (Croatia)

Sofyan Amrabat ??

Martin Rickett – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

Morocco asked Amrabat to do a bit of everything, and every time, he delivered. The 26-year-old breathed down the necks of his opponents and negotiated ways out of danger without breaking a sweat. His stock rose further as Morocco beat Belgium, Spain, and Portugal, displaying to a wider audience what many in Italy had already gathered. Rarely putting a foot wrong, the Fiorentina midfielder ended the tournament with just one yellow card to his name, a worthwhile achievement for a player who found himself in the trenches for seven matches.

Honorable mention: Enzo Fernandez (Argentina)

Luka Modric ??

Modric seemed human in the round of 16. With 99 minutes gone in Croatia’s meeting with Japan, the fleet-footed midfielder was clearly fatigued when he was substituted. At 37, that’s to be expected. But from nowhere, Modric found extra energy reserves for the knockout matches against Brazil and Argentina, seeming omnipresent while he swept up defensively and created chances at the other end. In what was likely his last World Cup appearance, the Real Madrid star reminded everybody why he’s one of the greatest midfielders of all time while playing 656 out of a possible 690 minutes.

Honorable mention: Jude Bellingham (England)

Antoine Griezmann ??

When France lost N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba to injury, head coach Didier Deschamps turned to Griezmann. He knew the star center-forward could handle the workload in midfield. Few players have ever been as reliable to a single cause: Griezmann’s played in each of France’s last 73 matches, and he’s filled various roles in the five-and-a-half years since his streak began. France wouldn’t have made as deep of a run in Qatar without Griezmann’s work rate, off-the-ball movement, and defensive awareness.

Honorable mention: Bruno Fernandes (Portugal)

Kylian Mbappe ??

Catherine Ivill / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Nobody was more electrifying during the World Cup than Mbappe. France had no business pushing the final against Argentina to extra time, let alone a shootout, but the insatiable forward took it upon himself to will Les Bleus to within a whisker of successive titles. His 97-second brace, even in a losing cause, will live long in the memory. The Golden Boot winner with eight goals, including his remarkable hat-trick in the final, Mbappe has now found the net 12 times in just two tournaments. He turns 24 tomorrow. The men’s all-time World Cup scoring record is in serious jeopardy.

Honorable mention: Richarlison (Brazil)

Julian Alvarez ??

Prior to the World Cup, Alvarez was tipped to blossom into a superstar for Argentina. It just wasn’t supposed to happen this quickly at this tournament. With Lautaro Martinez struggling, the 22-year-old was thrust into the spotlight. He excelled in the role, scoring four goals in five starts and, crucially, doing huge amounts of work off the ball to both win possession back and free up space for his teammates. His youthful zest was vital to Argentina’s success. Messi himself said Alvarez’s impact on the team was “absolutely spectacular.” Looking back now, it’s impossible to picture Argentina without him.

Honorable mention: Olivier Giroud (France)

Lionel Messi ??

Save the best – of the tournament and of all time – for last. Messi dazzled all month long in Qatar, but as the matches grew in significance, his performances followed suit. The Golden Ball winner always rose to the occasion. He got Argentina back on track in the group stage, scored in every knockout round – including twice in the final – and, in the tensest possible moment, his nonchalant penalty helped kick off the shootout against France and calm his team’s jangling nerves. His seven goals were second only to Mbappe, and nobody had more assists. A brilliant artist’s finest work.

Honorable mention: Cody Gakpo (Netherlands)

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Ligue 1

Even in a World Cup of twists and turns, it came down to Messi and Mbappe

As Sunday’s World Cup final entered the final half hour of regular time, the partisan crowd at Lusail Stadium began to sing ballads. Argentina moved the ball with alarming ease, and 40,000 or so of its compatriots in the stands coronated each pass. “Ole,” they chanted as their heroes completed attempt after attempt. “Ole, ole, ole.”

Up until that final half hour, France had failed to record a single shot on target. It had barely made a foray into Argentina’s penalty area. The flu virus that had afflicted the French in the days before the final seemed to have sapped all of their energy. Argentina’s 2-0 lead seemed as secure as anything ever recorded in history.

Except it wasn’t. The essence of this tournament was about to be revealed.

All it took was a turnover, a hopeful pass forward, and a run-in behind defender Nicolas Otamendi for Randal Kolo Muani, one of France’s speculative substitutes, to win a penalty in the 79th minute. That set into motion the most spectacular game of football ever played in a World Cup final.

Everything changed the moment Kylian Mbappe converted that penalty. Momentum swung violently the other way, and suddenly France seemed like the clear favorite to win. Mbappe equalized 97 seconds later, leaving Argentina wobbling on the canvas. A routine affair became a dog fight.

The World Cup had to end the way it started: amidst absolute chaos. The only thing that stayed on script Sunday was the fact that it went off it. These 28 days in Qatar proved that the best don’t always win, and that moments make champions, not necessarily talent alone. If something could happen, it did.

Saudi Arabia scored twice against Argentina to win a match in which it was expected to score 0.1 goals. Japan overcame 1-0 deficits to defeat both Germany and Spain. Morocco ousted Belgium, Spain, and Portugal with a ragtag ensemble and a coach who’d only taken the reins three months prior. No amount of backroom scheming and tactical planning could legislate for any of that. It just kind of happened.


Didier Deschamps’ team was a case study in improvisation. It started the tournament without six of its starters, including Karim Benzema, who won the Ballon d’Or as the world’s greatest player weeks before kickoff. France needed Harry Kane to miss the second of two penalties to have a chance of advancing from the quarterfinals, and it needed several players, including starters Adrien Rabiot and Dayot Upamecano, to recover from a flu bug in time to log significant minutes in the final.

The French also needed Olivier Giroud, for so long considered a liability by his own people, to convert the few chances that fell his way, and they needed Antoine Griezmann, a center-forward by trade, to sacrifice himself in midfield.

But two constants emerged amidst the wreckage. Argentina had Lionel Messi, and France had Mbappe. As the tournament cycled through the rounds, as the teams trudged toward the promised land, these two became more and more integral to this twisting tale. A certain air of invincibility followed them.

Messi and Mbappe were the heavyweights of the competition but also anomalies, putting all the tournament’s unsung heroes back in their place. No matter how close Argentina cut it, Messi always seemed the likeliest to determine its fate. No matter how desperate France had become, Mbappe always seemed to have a solution.

Messi didn’t just score, he created, and he took on defenders like it was 2017, turning Croatia’s Josko Gvardiol – the World Cup’s standout center-back – inside out with the same craftiness that turned Bayern Munich’s Jerome Boateng into a meme years ago. Mbappe ran like a gazelle, probed for openings, and found space even as multiple defenders descended on him with growling menace. Then, as one does, Mbappe went and scored a hat-trick in the World Cup final. Not even Pele could manage such a feat.

Messi and Mbappe remained fixtures as the World Cup became more and more of a wild card. The most important game of a tournament of seemingly unyielding vagary came down to the sport’s two main characters: the greatest of all time, and the potentially soon-to-be greatest.

Even when things that should’ve happened didn’t actually happen, Messi and Mbappe delivered as expected. Little else went according to plan. No one expected Morocco to fly the flag for Africa or Brazil to lose to Croatia in the quarterfinals. No one suspected a thing when the “oles” broke out Sunday, when Argentina’s traveling contingent swayed in the stands with a 2-0 lead and chanted with absolute glee.

Just as nothing made sense, Messi and Mbappe did. They scored five of the six goals in the final and converted the first of their penalty kicks. They did everything they were supposed to do. And the World Cup of twists and turns had the only ending anyone had ever expected.

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Ligue 1

3 thoughts from Argentina's win over France in legendary World Cup final

How do we make sense of such bedlam?

Lionel Messi almost led Argentina to World Cup glory in normal time – and then in extra time – but Sunday’s gripping final ended 3-3 after 120 minutes before the South Americans finally edged France on penalties.

Kylian Mbappe notched a hat-trick and struck a successful spot-kick in the shootout, but his clinical and mature display wasn’t enough to earn the superstar his second World Cup winners’ medal.

Here are three takeaways from an unforgettable final to conclude the 2022 World Cup:

Di Maria wreaks havoc

Discussions around Jules Kounde during the tournament indicated the right-back slot was completely alien to him. It seemed an awkward fix – something akin to solving an antique dining table’s wobble with a few soggy beer mats under a leg.

But that wasn’t strictly true given the minutes Kounde spent in that position for Julen Lopetegui at Sevilla and now Xavi at Barcelona. He’s not a novice at full-back. But it is reasonable to suggest he’s significantly better at center-back. In hindsight, perhaps Benjamin Pavard – a more dependable player on the right of a back-four – would have been the better choice in that role.

Angel Di Maria taunted Kounde in the first half. The Frenchman distractedly glanced over at midfield runners while Di Maria jinked his way down the flank and, at one point, desperately dragged the winger down after being beaten. Kounde was overwhelmed – his head muddled by the decisions he faced and his body knotted by the 34-year-old wideman’s footwork. And no one stepped up to help their bewildered teammate.

Kounde was caught in a narrow position for the move that led to Argentina’s penalty. His preoccupation with Argentina’s forward-thinking midfielders and Julian Alvarez meant Di Maria only had Ousmane Dembele to beat, and his chop created the space to carve out a route into the box before Dembele clipped his heels.

Messi made no mistake from 12 yards.

Kounde wasn’t part of France’s attack before Argentina’s second goal, so he should have been well-placed to deal with the Albiceleste’s speedy transition. But Dayot Upamecano was caught high up the pitch while Raphael Varane tried to engage with Messi, forcing Kounde to leave his position and close down goal-bound Alexis Mac Allister. Mac Allister then rolled an inviting pass to an unoccupied Di Maria for one of the finest goals of the 2022 World Cup.

To France’s relief, Di Maria only lasted a little over an hour before being substituted for Marcos Acuna. Di Maria – now a scorer in the finals of the 2008 Olympics, 2021 Copa America, 2022 Finalissima, and the 2022 World Cup – could have helped put the match out of reach if he was fully fit – or just younger.

Messi, Mbappe put on a show

It was unavoidable in the buildup to the final. This was a battle between the master – perhaps the greatest player of all time – and a potential heir to his throne.

And how Messi and Mbappe delivered.

Here are some standout numbers following the superstars’ enthralling performances in a staggering final:

1 – At just 23, Mbappe is the top scorer in World Cup finals history with four goals.

2 – Messi is the second-oldest player to score in a World Cup final at 35 years and 177 days. Sweden’s Nils Liedholm converted against Brazil in the 1958 showpiece at 35 years and 264 days.


3 – Mbappe’s treble made him the second male player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final. Geoff Hurst previously stood alone with that record thanks to his legendary display in England’s 1966 triumph.

4 – Argentina’s No. 10 scored four penalties in Qatar (excluding the shootout against the Netherlands in the quarterfinals). Only Dutch winger Rob Rensenbrink in 1978 and Portuguese icon Eusebio in 1966 have tucked away that many spot-kicks in a single tournament.

7 – Messi had never scored a World Cup knockout goal until this month. He spread his seven goals at the 2022 edition across the group stage, last-16, quarterfinals, semifinals, and final, meaning he’s the first player to score in each round of a single World Cup campaign.

8 – The last time a male player scored eight goals at a single World Cup was in 2002; Mbappe matched Ronaldo’s mark from Brazil’s success two decades ago.

10 – Messi and Mbappe both registered 10 goal involvements at the World Cup: Messi totaled seven goals and three assists, while Mbappe claimed eight strikes and two assists. The last player to reach that mark was Diego Maradona, who scored five and set up five during Argentina’s victorious 1986 campaign.

26 – Messi set a record with his 26th goal across his appearances on football’s biggest stage and his country’s continental competition. Brazil’s Ronaldo previously held the record with 25 goals scored at World Cup and Copa America outings.

100 – Messi’s second strike – and Argentina’s third – was his 100th career goal with his right foot.

A fitting end

Argentina was cruising, tapping the ball around the middle of the park to the soundtrack of “oles” from the crowd. The French players, chasing shadows around Lusail, appeared more tired than the annual debates over whether “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie or not.

It seemed to be a procession toward the trophy for the Albiceleste. So – naturally, for this tournament – the scene descended into blissful chaos.

From nowhere, Mbappe scored twice in 97 seconds – a penalty and a stunning lashed volley – to wipe out Argentina’s two-goal advantage by the 81st minute.

It’s impossible to ignore the atrocities that Qatar and FIFA tried to gloss over at this World Cup, including migrant worker deaths and abuses and the abhorrent treatment of the LGBTQ+ community in the Gulf state. But it’s also impossible to deny this was a marvelous tournament: There were surprise results -including, of course, Saudi Arabia’s win over Argentina – several miraculous tournament runs highlighted by Morocco’s, and many other timeless individual and team performances.

DeFodi Images / DeFodi Images / Getty

The final kept up appearances. Mbappe’s quick-paced double salvo wasn’t even close to the peak of Sunday’s shock and suspense. Messi thought he’d won it when he scored in the 109th minute, but tears of happiness on the Argentine bench became tears of despair when Mbappe scored from the penalty spot following Gonzalo Montiel’s handball.

Even then, there was more drama to unfold. Randal Kolo Muani was inches from scoring the winner with his head, but that wasn’t his best late chance. The Eintracht Frankfurt forward was one-on-one with Emiliano Martinez in the 123rd minute, but his shot was spectacularly saved by Martinez’s foot; Lautaro Martinez then wastefully headed wide after one last sprint upfield from the Argentines.

It was breathless action to conclude a memorable World Cup, and Montiel’s game-winning penalty in the shootout tied a bow on one of the greatest matches in the old sport’s history.

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