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Ligue 1

World Cup roundup: Milestone for Messi, USMNT runs out of steam

The 2022 World Cup is in full swing. At the end of every matchday, we’ll review the biggest talking points emanating from Qatar and break down all the action on the pitch. Below, we look back on Saturday’s last-16 games.

Lack of depth costs USMNT

Gregg Berhalter’s resources were drained.

The central trio of Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, and Yunus Musah served the United States so well during the group stage, but none of those players managed a successful tackle in the 3-1 loss to the Netherlands. Musah was the first of the three midfielders to complete a dribble – and that came in the 92nd minute. Only Adams kept the ball well.

Meanwhile, the U.S. defenders’ ball-watching was sometimes so pronounced that it seemed trance-like. The backline’s weariness eased the finishes for each of the Netherlands’ three goals. Antonee Robinson was among his country’s best players in Qatar, but he performed his defensive duties in a rather groggy manner on the third Dutch goal. Robinson mindlessly joined Tim Ream in tracking Cody Gakpo, leaving the back stick wide open for Denzel Dumfries’ header.

Despite the starters’ low energy, Berhalter didn’t seem to have much belief in the defenders and midfielders waiting in reserve. Aaron Long, a defender who habitually saves the New York Red Bulls with last-ditch blocks and tackles, was a strong candidate to start in Qatar. He ended the campaign with no minutes. Midfielders Luca de la Torre and Cristian Roldan also went unused.

But there was an awkward chunk of the second half where the Netherlands painfully exposed perhaps the thinnest area of Berhalter’s squad. Young winger Gio Reyna, a pacey dribbler not known for his physicality, played up front with his back to goal after replacing Jesus Ferreira at halftime. Haji Wright appeared off the bench after Reyna toiled as an ersatz No. 9 for over 20 minutes, making his most meaningful contribution in time as a creator, not a finisher, when he set up McKennie for a shot.

The youthfulness of this group and the increased competitiveness of domestic football in the States should mean its national team program is in fine fettle ahead of the 2026 World Cup. Sadly, the 2022 tournament was little more than a steep learning curve and a chance to test Berhalter’s credentials to be the person to oversee the nation at the next World Cup.

Netherlands growing into tournament

Questions over the Netherlands’ ability to make a deep tournament run were justified going into the knockout stage in Qatar. Despite benefitting from a favorable draw, the Dutch largely underwhelmed in their first three games, relying too heavily on Cody Gakpo to provide all of the team’s offense.

But there were signs Saturday that Louis van Gaal’s side is growing into the competition. Even though the United States carried much of the play at Khalifa International Stadium, that was by design. The Netherlands never seemed out of control or overly flustered, happy to cede possession, defend as a unit, and then meticulously pick the U.S. apart on the break and down the flanks when spaces opened.

picture alliance / picture alliance / Getty

Van Gaal’s plan of attack was clear, and it worked.

“In the first few games, they (critics) were right; we didn’t play our best football,” defender Nathan Ake told reporters Saturday. “But we knew we had to play better, and today we showed much more what we can do in different phases. In some situations, we had to defend a little bit more, but we know that we’re very dangerous on the counterattack.”

This edition of the Oranje didn’t inspire confidence amongst fans due to a perceived lack of overall talent. But with Memphis Depay returning to full fitness, Frenkie de Jong having more freedom to roam about the pitch, Xavi Simons providing a spark off the bench, and the wing-backs generating attacking thrust, the Dutch are rounding into form at exactly the right time. They’re showing they can play the type of attractive football the country demands. But it isn’t all attritional defending. Depay’s opening goal against the USMNT came after a sweeping 20-pass move.

This team, for all its critics, is still undefeated since Van Gaal returned to the bench, too. The Dutch will be tough to beat.

By the numbers: Messi hits 1,000

To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Lionel Messi marked his 1,000th appearance in professional football with yet another goal in a marvelous career, opening the scoring in Argentina’s 2-1 win over Australia. The 35-year-old said in October that this would be his final World Cup.

Francois Nel / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Here are some eye-catching numbers relating to Messi’s last-16 performance:

1 – At the ninth time of asking, Messi tallied his first goal in the knockout stages of a World Cup.

5 – Age of Argentina’s Enzo Fernandez and Thiago Almada when Messi scored his first World Cup goal. Alexis Mac Allister was also younger than Kevin McCallister in “Home Alone.”

6 – Messi has opened the scoring in six World Cup matches. No player has done it more.

9 – Messi has nine overall goals at World Cups. His precise finish against Australia pushed him above Diego Maradona and Guillermo Stabile in Argentina’s list of World Cup scorers and put him one shy of Gabriel Batistuta’s record of 10.

22 – Messi’s return of 22 goals at major tournaments is the same as Cristiano Ronaldo’s haul.

789 – Messi has recorded 789 goals over 1,000 appearances. Take a bow, Messi.

Quick free-kicks

Dumfries vital to Dutch attack

Dumfries was feeling it Saturday. Yes, the irrepressible wing-back benefitted from huge amounts of space afforded to him by the United States – especially on his goal, where the Americans, incomprehensibly, seemed to forget about him standing alone at the back post. But even when the U.S. defense was set, Dumfries was a menace. He set up the first two Dutch goals with pinpoint deliveries and was a constant outlet who his teammates looked for throughout the match. The Inter Milan star became the first Dutchman since 1978 to be directly involved in three goals in a single World Cup match. Only Rob Rensenbrink and late national icon Johan Cruyff had previously accomplished that feat. Decent company.

Alvarez’s ceiling is so high

It was a gift from Mat Ryan, but few players would’ve been as decisive as Julian Alvarez. Others would’ve taken too long to think or steady themselves, but the 22-year-old rode the hapless goalkeeper’s challenge and, while appearing to be off-balance, gently rolled the ball into the far corner. Alvarez became the first Argentine to score in his first two World Cup starts since Hernan Crespo in 2006 and is the fifth youngest player from his country to score in the competition’s knockout rounds. The young attacker isn’t just a clinical finisher. His goal was a just reward for his excellent off-the-ball work against the Aussies.

Can South Korea trouble injury-hit Brazil?

Tite’s squad rotation to conclude Brazil’s group-stage slate backfired. Gabriel Jesus and Alex Telles both injured their right legs in Friday’s 1-0 defeat to Cameroon, and the latter absence means Brazil now has an issue at full-back. Telles joins Alex Sandro, the first-choice left-back, on the sidelines, potentially forcing Danilo (who’s not fully fit) to move to the left and 39-year-old Dani Alves to take on Heung-Min Son on the other side. Is the scene set for South Korea to shock the world Monday?

Aussies, Arnold made entire nation proud

When Australia failed to secure an automatic berth at this World Cup and was forced to go through the qualification playoffs, Graham Arnold was nearly sacked. Even when the Aussies finally punched their tickets to Qatar – after a marathon 20-match qualifying campaign that spanned over 1,000 days – Arnold’s team wasn’t expected to make much impact, if any, at the tournament. But his squad, built on trust and togetherness, set new milestones for the program, recording back-to-back World Cup wins for the first time ever and reaching the knockout stage for the first time since 2006. If it weren’t for a point-blank save in the 97th minute by Emiliano Martinez, Australia would have pushed heavily favored Argentina and Messi to extra time. From there, who knows what would have been possible. “I felt we did a good job. I wanted to say how proud I am of them and the sacrifices they’ve made through the campaign,” the amiable Arnold said after the 2-1 defeat. “Everyone said before we came here we were the worst Socceroo team ever and to qualify for a World Cup – but that’s gone now – we’ve done exceptionally well.”

Stat of the day

If it weren’t for an excellent save from Martinez in the dying seconds of Australia’s last-16 defeat to Argentina, Newcastle United-bound Garang Kuol would’ve been the second youngest goalscorer in World Cup history (after Pele, of course).

Tweet of the day

Memphis Depay kept the receipts after NBA analyst Charles Barkley said the United States would beat the Netherlands.

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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.

FADEL SENNA / AFP / Getty

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.

FRANCK FIFE / AFP / Getty

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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