The controversial ‘winter’ World Cup in the Middle East drew to a close last Sunday afternoon with Argentina beating defending champions France in the most dramatic final since England’s famous victory over Germany in 1966.
The French, said to have been laid low by a virus circulating in their team hotel prior to the match, simply did not turn up during the first half and Argentina were soon 2-0 up through a Lionel Messi penalty and a great team move finished off by Angel Di Maria.
A double substitution by manager Didier Deschamps even before half time did not change matters, with Argentina appearing to be coasting home until a further two changes with little more than 10 minutes remaining on the clock breathed new life into France.
First, Benfica’s Nicolás Otamendi brought Kolo Muani down in the box allowing Kylian Mbappé to score from the spot, the 23-year-old superstar then doubling his tally with a brilliant volley barely a minute later for the earlier most unlikely-looking equaliser.
There was still time for Hugo Lloris to stand up to a ferocious Messi shot before the now enthralling encounter moved into extra time, Messi again thinking he had won the coveted trophy for Argentina when stroking home in the 108th minute to make it 3-2.
But back came France, Mbappé stepping up once more to successfully convert his second penalty after his initial shot on goal had been illegally blocked by Gonzalo Montiel’s arm – 3-3!
And thus, the drama reached its climax with the fifth spot-kick lottery of this tournament: Mbappé and Messi both converted confidently, Argentine keeper Emi Martinez saved from Kingsley Coman while Aurélien Tchouaméni fired wide leaving Montiel to score the winning penalty and confirm Argentina as the 4-2 shoot-out winners, the third time the South Americans have been victorious in this competition following previous successes on home soil in 1978 and Mexico 1986.
In the aftermath of ‘the greatest show on earth’, Portugal manager Fernando Santos stepped down and could be succeeded by either ‘special one’ José Mourinho, ex-Benfica and Wolves boss Bruno Lage or U-21 coach Rui Jorge currently favoured over other candidates.
In contrast, England’s Gareth Southgate has decided to stay on and lead the Three Lions into the 2024 European Championships.
By SKIP BANDELE