- Date: Sunday, December 18
- Kickoff Time: 7:00 am PT / 10:00 am ET / 3:00 pm GMT
- Location: Lusail Iconic Stadium
- Match Officials: Referee: Szymon Marciniak (POL), Assistant Referee 1: Pawel Sokolnicki (POL), Assistant Referee 2: Tomasz Listkiewicz (POL).
This was always going to be a titanic affair between two of the best sides in the tournament, with both Argentina and France showing the ability to turn it on when the intensity and skill were needed the most.
Making a record 26th World Cup appearance, Lionel Messi was about fifteen minutes away from finally fulfilling his career dream of lifting the trophy in what might be his last tournament in the Albicelesti colours. However, his natural heir to the throne of greatest player in the game Kylian Mbappe turned the game around in just ninety seconds.
As expected, Lionel Scaloni kept Nahuel Molina in at right back, but also opted to keep Nicolas Tagliafico in the starting lineup on the opposite flank. The imposing midfield was unchanged from the semi-final win over Croatia, but Angel Di Maria returned to the lineup wide on the left.
Argentina XI: E. Martinez; Molina, Romero, Otamendi, Tagliafico; De Paul, Fernandez, Mac Allister; Messi, Alvarez, Di Maria
For France, with the illness issues in their camp starting to abate, Didier Deschamps had almost a full complement of players to choose from.
France XI: Lloris; Kounde, Varane, Upamecano, T. Hernandez; Tchouameni, Rabiot; Dembele, Griezmann, Mbappe; Giroud
Argentina started the game like they had some unfinished business to deal with. They pressed high, passed incisively and attacked with intent right from the first whistle, and seemed to take the defending champions France by surprise.
Certainly the partisan support in the stadium had a big part to play as the constant drumbeat and roar revved the Albicelesti on while Deschamps’ side seemed a bit star-struck on the big stage.
Just after the first quarter of an hour when it looked like Les Bleus were slowly working their way into the game, a methodical move ended with a jinking run from Angel Di Maria being pulled down Ousmane Dembele in the area, a clear penalty to Argentina. Lionel Messi stepped up to take the spotkick, outwaited Hugo Lloris who dived to his right, and tucked the ball in the net coolly to put Argentina up 1-0 at the halfway mark of the first half.
MESSI PUTS ARGENTINA OUT IN FRONT pic.twitter.com/kZkUvRUXC9— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 18, 2022
Scaloni’s gamble on inserting Di Maria back into the lineup paid off handsomely as the half progressed, with his side making a precision strike on the counter attack to go up by two. A defensive clearance fell to Messi, and a series of one-touch passes from Julian Alvarez and Alexis Mac Allister found Di Maria bearing down on goal from the left, and his dink over the onrushing Lloris made it 2-0 just 36 minutes into the World Cup Final.
OH MY WHAT A GOAL— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 18, 2022
2-0 ARGENTINA pic.twitter.com/rBH0HSCyFJ
A couple of earlier injury stoppages meant there would be seven minutes of time added on in the first stanza, but Deschamps showed his frustration by not even waiting for the intermission to start ringing the changes. Dembele and Olivier Giroud came off for Randal Kolo Muani and Marcus Thuram, and France moved to more of a 4-2-3-1 to beef up the midfield where Argentina had their will to start the game.
As expected, the game slowed right down when play resumed in the second half, with Argentina letting France hold the ball and defending in numbers, but always ready to counter attack. Les Bleus for their part got sucked right into their opponent’s game, with Scaloni’s players taking every opportunity to waste time from setpieces and fouls. Di Maria, who is still not fully fit came off with wingback Marcos Acuna coming on to solidify the defence.
France’s urgency increased as the hour mark came and went, and a spell of pressure resulted in their first shot of the entire game on the 70th minute, which heralded the entry of Eduardo Camavinga and Kingsley Coman, with Antoine Griezmann and Theo Hernandez going off with France settling into a more attacking shape.
And just like that, in a matter of a couple of minutes France were level! The game quietened down when the singing Argentina fans were stunned into silence when first Kolo Muani burst past Nicolas Otamendi and was dragged down in the box for a penalty. Mbappe stepped up and sent it to Emiliano Martinez’s right, with the goalie’s hand not enough to keep the ball out.
MBAPPE TAKES ONE BACK FOR FRANCE— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 18, 2022
Game. On. pic.twitter.com/cbRZEMnOfv
Before Argentina could settle again, France had pulled level. Coman found Mbappe who played a give-and-go with Thuram, and Mbappe’s low thundering volley to the far corner was only palmed into his own net by Martinez with under ten minutes of regular time to play.
MBAPPE ARE YOU SERIOUS?!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 18, 2022
FRANCE TIES IT pic.twitter.com/qZLzNz3aow
The game turned niggly as the minutes went on, and though Les Bleus led by a re-energized Mbappe pushed on looking for the winner, even the eight-plus minutes of time added on were not enough to separate the two sides with both Mbappe and Messi coming close to winning it late.
Extra time started with changes for both sides, Gonzalo Montiel replacing Molina and Rabiot off for Youssouf Fofana. With the game level, Argentina tried to work their way into an attacking formation again after defending deep for an entire half.
It was a nervy fifteen minutes more like how we had expected this game would go from the beginning as neither side wanted to make a critical mistake that would lose them the Final. Scaloni responded to the higher energy levels from the young France subs by throwing on a couple more like-for-like subs - Lautaro Martinez and Leandro Paredes for Alvarez and De Paul.
Immediately the move almost paid off as on a rare foray forward Martinez’s shot was well-blocked by Upamecano, and then Acuna’s flying shot from the rebound headed away by Raphael Varane. Less than a minute later Upamecano made a huge tackle to stop Martinez who was clean through on goal with Lloris charging out as well just before the break.
On the counter though soon after resumption, Martinez stayed on-side just long enough to deliver a shot from a narrow angle that Lloris parried away, but it fell straight to Messi who banged it home from point-blank range to put Argentina back ahead 3-2.
ARGENTINA TAKES THE LEAD IN THE 108TH MINUTE pic.twitter.com/vqqjaCizBP— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 18, 2022
France’s next sub was Ibrahima Konate coming on for an exhausted Varane who had to helped off the pitch as Argentina went into a time-wasting routine with eight minutes to play. Paredes was lucky to only be booked as he went sliding in on Camavinga with studs up in the air as Scaloni made his next sub, replacing Mac Allister with another defender in German Pezzela.
From a corner with less than five minutes to go, Montiel blocked a goalbound shot with his arm for an uncontested penalty that Mbappe sent Emi Martinez the wrong way to make it 3-3. What a game this had already been at this point.
PENALTY FOR FRANCE— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 18, 2022
THIS GAME IS MADNESS pic.twitter.com/8rvVncOX6U
MBAPPE TIES IT AGAIN— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 18, 2022
3-3 IN THE 117TH MINUTE pic.twitter.com/EelVTJMRiI
With just a minute to play, Acuna won a corner on the left that Messi stepped up to take. His outswinger caused a melee in the box but France booted clear, and then Mbappe’s cross-shot curled just past the far post.
France was THIS CLOSE to a winner pic.twitter.com/3f7niqhpr2— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 18, 2022
Three minutes were added on after the 120 minutes, with both sides making changes with penalties in mind - Axel Disasi for Kounde, and Paulo Dybala for Tagliafico. Both defences were stretched to the limit with either side wasting chances to end the game there and then, but it was always going to the shootout to decide this affair.
France elected to shoot first, with the shootout taking place at the goal area that was not scuffed up after ten games in less than a month at this Lusail Stadium.
Mbappe scored for the fourth time on the night, and his third penalty as Emi Martinez got a hand to it again but couldn’t keep it out. Messi saw Lloris jump and placed it the other way to make it 1-1 next.
Coman stepped up to take the second penalty, and his shot was poorly hit for Martinez to parry away easily. Sub Dybala put his shot right down the middle to put Argentina ahead 2-1.
Emi Martinez continued his well-known mindgames as Tchouameni came to take his spotkick, holding on to the ball and then throwing it away. It worked, because the Real Madrid midfielder hit his shot off the outside of the left post. Paredes buried his shot past Lloris to make it 3-1 and Argentina were one kick away from destiny.
Kolo Muani hammered his shot straight down the middle to keep things interesting, but it fell to Montiel to end the game, and the fullback delivered to hand Lionel Messi his first ever World Cup trophy.
What an incredible ending to an incredible tournament.