a12 years later, the fractured and swirling scales of geopolitics; after death, ghosts, and suffering; After Armbands, Hard Power, Davos in the Desert Airs; After 64 matches in Qatar 2022 world CupLusail Stadium was a purely sporting surprise.
This was the greatest final in the FIFA World Cup. It was also their third World Cup win Argentinawho defeated France on penalties at the end of a wobbly 3-3 tie.
More importantly, it was also a kind of coronation, belatedly, for the greatest footballer of this age, perhaps of any age, a brain-moving 35-year-old. Lionel MessiThousands of matches in his amazing career.
This was an emotional overload, a game they seemed to have won at least four times in 120 minutes before finally being on the last kick of the tournament. So here there was a turn. This World Cup final was supposed to come down to meeting the genius, to wrestling the ruling arm of Messi, Kylian Mbappe. I did in many ways. Mbappe scored the first hat-trick in a men’s World Cup final since Geoff Hurst in 1966 and he still lost.
But the game also fell to a good old fashioned death Malandro Sophistication of games, embodied in the antics of the Argentine goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, who kicked the ball wide, advanced on the French balls, almost falling into the ground after each unsuccessful kick, and at some point the referee had to push him back. .
As Gonzalo Montiel’s winning kick headed home, a sweet, soft moment before the night turned into a steady wave, Messi was buried in the center circle under a knot of blue and white.
Eventually he broke free and walked out, waving both hands, alone in the chaos save for one passing photographer who sensed his money bullet. How fitting, in the end, that Messi should celebrate the World Cup in the same way he won it, by touring on his own.
In many ways this was Messi’s story. Messi scored six goals in Qatar 2022 and won the Golden Ball as the best player. Play with some of the greatest soccer players on earth. He did all this at the age of 35 and almost injured. This is not normal. At some point you will begin to stretch the boundaries of credibility.
Plus, he’s part of the wider story of this $7 billion sports extravaganza. When Messi was awarded the World Cup, the Emir of Qatar, who is also his employer, handed him a robe to wear.
You get what you pay for, and Qatar achieved their perfect finale here. You have to admire the inclusiveness, the scheme that says we will not only pay for the World Cup but for the players most likely to be on the podium at the end: Messi, Mbappe, paid ambassadors for Qatar Sports Investments via amazing contracts with PSG. This is the real thing: fully encrypted end-to-end sports laundry. It is an incredible act of will.
But there is also a paradox in Messi winning these divisive and brutal World Cups. There have always been two versions of the Qatar 2022 World Cup. First, the one that was built on the foundation of human waste, the one that held a mirror not only to the corruption of big sport, but also to the global labor market driving migrant workers into lucrative close to captivity. A system that Qatar did not create, which it simply embodied with insane efficiency.
Then there is another World Cup, the spectacle that brings joy and drama, and a sense of togetherness. Which elevated Messi’s brilliance to one of the great sports stories.
He was imposing throughout the game. Right from the start the colors were perfect. Deep French blue, Argentine albiceleste, lime green grass, cool white pitch lights. The first five minutes of any Messi performance have been much discussed in recent weeks. Messi spends those five minutes watching.
He did it here. He scans, makes jigsaws, walks, scouts his opponents. And Messi’s walking is not actually walking. He thinks. Walking is the quick movement of his eye, his spinning disc as he grinds the blade. Messi walks three miles per match. He’s not doing this to get in his stride.
And from the start Argentina were more resilient than on any stage up to this point, with Angel Di Maria providing another crack point on the left. It felt a little strange. Messi was almost involved. This is supposed to be the World Cup for a while. Don’t waste it. Keep it safe. Wait for it to bloom.
Messi duly scored the opening goal from the penalty spot, set up by Di Maria. The second goal for Argentina was a great goal for the team. Messi had a hand at the start, producing an impressive 45-degree pass. Di Maria finished expertly, then kind of broke down, drinking glory, space noise, and light.
Didier Deschamps tore his attack. France Sat in the game a bit. And so the ups and downs began. Mbappe made it 2-1 in 80 minutes, then 2-2 with a beautiful clean finish. In the VVIP boxes, “Emmanuel Macron go in one,” the educated, earnest President of the Republic shrieking, jumping, and honking like a startled goose.
Argentina is gone. The team that seemed to be scrambling like handsome disciples towards glory looked confused, lost, finished. Then Argentina came back and scored again through Messi, before Mbappe equalized from a penalty kick. Then came the penalties and the final moment of grace.