Argentina 3 - 3 France (Argentina won 4 - 2 on penalties)

Argentina 3 - 3 France (Argentina won 4 - 2 on penalties)

The atmosphere was electric; the sound inside the stadium was at its loudest best.

The buildup to this final was enormous. There was a lot at stake for both teams. Argentina were bidding to end a 36-year drought; France were aiming to become the first team to retain the title since Brazil in 1962. There were a lot of subplots too, not least of which was the battle between Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe. The atmosphere was electric; the sound inside the stadium was at its loudest best. I even saw pictures of the Argentina team singing and dancing as they entered the stadium. That spirit would hold them good hours later. Perhaps, Argentina and Morocco produced the best fans we have seen this tournament. Call me biased, but I think the fevered rendition of 'Muchachos, Ahora Nos Volvimos a Illusionar' tilted the scales in favor of the Argentina fans. Both teams appeared relaxed at the outset but definitely their hearts were beating to the brim in the backdrop of such a hallowed event as a World Cup final. Argentina chose to include Angel Di Maria in their starting eleven while France were thankful they could put together quite a strong starting eleven after a virus attack scared them. This was a battle of wits and tactics as we would see from Lionel Scaloni, the 44-year old former Argentina player and Didier Deschamps, the celeberated French World Cup winner of 1998 and 2018.

Argentina 3 - 3 France (Argentina won 4 - 2 on penalties)
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Contrary to expectations, we did not see France with their flowing runs into the opposition box. Rather, we saw Argentina pressing with their hearts out against a French side that looked very confused. La Albiceleste took full advantage of that confusion and tardiness of the French side. Les Blues inexplicably lost balls, appeared to be hampered in movement and seemed to have addled brains. Argentina’s forays were beautiful, particularly De Maria was a constant threat as they attacked from left to right. One of such attacks invited a poor tackle from Ousmane Dembele and amidst humongous pressure, Lionel Messi converted from the spot to give Argentina their first World Cup final goal since Jorge Burruchaga scored against West Germany in 1986. France were dazed; they did not know what to do. Argentina, on the other hand, were brimming with confidence. 13 minutes later, Di Maria was in the thick of action yet again courtesy a beautiful move. Messi made an important touch that was so delicate in a stunning counterattack that saw the ball at the feet of Alexis MacAllister who had loads of space in front of him. He also saw the run of Di Maria and was intelligent enough to lay the ball before him; Di Maria finished beautifully to put Argentina 2-0 ahead. This was a big lead in the context of a final. The Argentines did not take their feet off the accelerator, they were hunting a third goal. France, had no shots to show in a poor first half showing. Deschamps made two tactical substitutions before halftime – Giroud and Dembele made way for Kolo Muani and Marcus Thuram. It showed the proactiveness of the French manager who knew that his team needed goals.

The second half started in much the same pattern as the first with Argentina happy to press and France, unsure what to do. But Argentina couldn’t find a third goal that would have sealed the game shut. They were beginning to get tired in the field whereas France had injected a couple more fresh legs in Kingsley Coman and Camavinga. Argentina had pulled back Di Maria for Acuna some minutes prior to this. That was a strange decision since Di Maria was doing so well. Suddenly, Argentina seemed to have lost their intensity. And France were beginning to find spaces. With just 10 minutes plus added time remaining on the clock, Kolo Muani won a penalty for France which Mbappe duly converted to bring life into the match. Before I could process what was happening, Argentina’s defence was in shambles as Mbappe pounced and guided a strong volley into the Argentina net. From a position of hopelessness, France had managed to dig deep into their reserves to get their final back on track. Argentina were stunned; their loud voices gradually drowned out. France, their tails up, had found their voices that was increasing in decibel levels as the full time whistle came.

For Argentina to make any further impact on the game, they needed to recover. And fast. To their credit, they put the setback behind them and introduced Leandro Paredes and Lautaro Martinez towards the end of the first half of extra time. France were still humming and probing and one could sense the nerves jangling in the Argentina camp. However, those substitutions had a positive impact as once again Argentina once again found that attack was their best ploy. There were a couple of half chances but then came another important moment of the night. A brilliant move saw Lautaro Martinez powerfully hitting for glory which Hugo Lloris could only parry into the path of Lionel Messi who made no mistake in getting the ball over the line. True to the drama that this edition of the World Cup had offered, France equalized yet again. Gonzalo Montiel’s handball led to a penalty for the European powerhouse and Mbappe ensured he had a hattrick in a World Cup final, the first since England’s Geoff Hurst did so in 1966. There were further nervy moments for both teams as Kolo Muani saw his shot brilliantly blocked by Emi Martinez and soon at the other end, Lautaro Martinez headed wide when he could have placed it inside. We were going to penalties to decide a World Cup winner.

Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi converted their penalties as would have been expected of them, but with amazingly cool heads. The choice of them to take the first set of kicks was a commendable decision from the respective team managaments. Kingsley Coman saw his kick being saved by the brilliant glovesman Martinez and Tchouameni kicked his one wide. Kolo Muani made his kick count and it was left to Gonzalo Montiel to win the World Cup for Argentina and he did not miss. The Argentines were euphoric; the French desolate. Messi had finally won the trophy he most coveted and could now breathe easy. Argentina had overcome 36 years of pain and had a lot to thank Lionel Scaloni for it. The tears on the Argentina squad’s faces told it all – how much this meant to them. And it was all worth it at the end. A fairytale end to a World Cup that was full of drama.

France will have to look at the opening 70 minutes and see how they made so many mistakes. It was not befitting a team that had done so well in the tournament upto the big match. Perhaps the occasion got to the better of them, we don’t know. Their fightback was exciting but they will feel it did not have to come to that. The Frenchmen have a few areas to iron out as I have said previously – the defence as well as the ability to keep and win balls in midfield. With Zinedine Zidane rumored to succeed Deschamps as the next manager, they will have to look at what style they will be playing and how. They overcame injuries and illnesses, all that’s well and good but on more than one ocaasion in the tournament they have shown a serious weakness of allowing the pressure to get to them. That proved to be their undoing tonight as well. Good luck to Les Blues as they build on this team for 2026.

Argentina were deserved winners of the tournament. After they lost the first game against Saudi Arabia, they managed to win all their remaining games, thereby emulating Spain’s achievement in 2010. They scored at least 2 goals in their remaining games, which was heartening to see, but what was not heartening was the late goals they conceded against Netherlands and France. On another day, that could have turned into a different story. That will be something for the team to work on in the next four years and come out stronger than they are today in 2026. Much as their World Cup anthem, the hope had delivered on the night and they can rightfully celebrate.

Sreedeep is a writer of fiction based in Kochi, Kerala, India. His debut novel in Malayalam was published in June 2022. Besides writing, he follows sports keenly and is an ardent Manchester United fan.

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