On Sunday, Argentina beat France in probably the World Cup’s greatest final ever, bringing Lionel Messi’s claim to the trophy to a fairytale end.
Argentina’s 2022 World Cup journey, as well as the final game itself, had a destiny-fulfilling narrative around them.
After enduring defeat in the 2014 World Cup final against Germany and losing twice on penalties in the 2015 and 2016 Copa America finals against Chile, the Argentine national team and Lionel Messi finally turned their luck around for good, even though at times it seemed that the trophy was going to slip away from them again in a dramatic fashion.
It was a career-high for Messi who managed to place his hand on the Jules Rimet trophy, the only major honour that he hadn’t conquered in his mythic career, bringing joy to a football-crazy nation which longed for World Cup success to distract them from economic hardship.
In 2016, after losing the third consecutive international final in three years, Messi retired from the national team, only to return a week later, after a campaign to convince him to change his mind which involved the then-President of Argentina Mauricio Macri and the Mayor of Buenos Aires unveiling a statute for him to make him reconsider his retirement.
“I tried my hardest. The team has ended for me, a decision made,” he had said, all but directly admitting that his genius talent could not on its own elevate a non-elite team to the pinnacle of international football.
A few days later, Messi returned to the national team, only to suffer defeat at the hands of France in the 2018 World Cup.
This year, the stars seemed to align. Coached by the man who convinced him to stay in the national team and after winning the 2021 Copa America – his first major trophy with Argentina – as well as backed by a team on a 36-game unbeaten streak, Messi seemed destined to win the World Cup.
Their first-game defeat against Saudi Arabia now seems a perfect fit for this Argentinean story and team, which looked – as it looked on Sunday’s final – like it was one moment away from crumbling under the weight of expectation, despite Messi’s best efforts. Surely, the clinical French champions would be able to keep their nerves and deprive the Argentineans of the salvation they were seeking, in another extra-time drama. But this time, the jinx broke.
After Gonzalo Montiel netted the final penalty for Argentina, the team erupted into celebration on the pitch of Lusail stadium. The team and the nation that wanted this win the most finally won it. A weight of 36 years since Argentina last won the World Cup – again led by another man regarded as one of the greatest to have ever played the sport – was lifted from their shoulders.
As for Messi – who on Sunday became the player with the most World Cup appearances in history, the only player to be named twice as the tournament’s best, the player with the most minutes in World Cup history, as well as the only one to have scored in every round of the tournament – he finally collected the piece missing from his illustrious trophy cabinet and career.
We fans, could not help but watch in awe and with a slight hint of melancholia, aware that we just witnessed the final great performance of the best football player to have graced the pitch in our lifetime.
Family ❤️ #FIFAWorldCup #Messi #Argentina pic.twitter.com/SmVKq77gA7
— GQ Sports (@GQSports) December 18, 2022