FIFA WORLD CUP, Lionel Messi finally achieved his lifelong goal by emulating his hero, Diego Maradona, and winning the World Cup on Sunday night.
The Barcelona superstar had been chasing the trophy since he joined Barca aged just 16, and now he has done it.
Messi became the fifth player to score four goals in a single World Cup final, following Brazil great Pele, Germany legend Gerd Muller, Italy striker Giuseppe Meazza and England forward Bobby Moore.
And he did it in style, scoring twice in each half to lead Argentina to victory over France in what many consider to be the greatest final of all-time.
Kylian Mbappe scored three times as France recovered from being 2-0 down to defeat Croatia 7-5 in the semi-final on Thursday, while Neymar struck twice for Brazil in a 5-1 demolition of Sweden in the quarter-finals.
But Messi, 34, got the job done in the end, with Argentina prevailing 4-2 on penalties after a tense 120 minutes.
After the game, Messi told reporters: “I’m very happy because I’ve always dreamed about playing in a World Cup final.
Lionel Scaloni proud of Argentina for suffering in ‘perfect game’
Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni admitted he was “proud” of his side for suffering in a “perfect game” as they beat reigning world champions France 4-2 in the World Cup final on Sunday. After losing 2-1 to hosts Russia in the semi-finals, Argentina dominated possession throughout the match and took the lead early on through Gonzalo Higuain’s header. But France equalised just before half-time through Antoine Griezmann’s strike and it looked like Les Bleus would go on to win the tournament. However, Argentina struck again in the 73rd minute through substitute Javier Mascherano’s superb free-kick to take victory. “We played a perfect game,” Scaloni told reporters after the match. “I am very happy because we showed character and we won.”
Scaloni added: “We are here to play football, not to make history. We wanted to do our best and we did it. “We didn’t deserve to lose today, but we lost. We deserved to win. We played well. We controlled the ball, we passed well. “The team worked hard and it paid off. We’re happy to be champions.”
Lionel Scaloni proud of Argentina for suffering in ‘perfect game’
Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni admitted he had never seen anything like what happened during his side’s epic 3-2 victory over France in Sunday’s World Cup final. “I’ve never been part of a match where we played such a perfect game,” Scaloni told reporters after the match. “We didn’t make mistakes and I’m very happy.”
Scaloni added: “This is something unique, it’s incredible. We’re very happy because we won and we want to celebrate together.”
The Argentinean manager praised his players’ performance, saying: “They did everything well. They showed great character. They fought until the end. This is something special.”
France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris agreed, hailing the team’s efforts. “We gave our best and we deserved to win,” he said. “But you cannot play football without passion. You have to give everything. We tried to do that and we are really happy.”
The French captain Thierry Henry, meanwhile, insisted his side could still improve. “We know there are things we can work on,” he said. “There are areas we can improve on. But we have shown today that we are capable of doing this.”
FIFA WORLD CUP final player ratings: Mbappe produces heroics but Argentina beat France on penalties in classic
Argentina have won their third World Cup, beating France 4-2 on penalties after a thrilling 3-3 draw in Doha.
The Albicelestes started the stronger, earning a deserved lead when Lionel Messi tuckahed in a penalty following a foul by Angel di Maria.
Didier Deschamps made a couple of changes before half-time, bringing Mathieu Valbuena and Paul Pogba off the bench.
But the French struggled to live up to expectations, failing to muster a single shot on target in the opening 45 minutes.
Kylian Mbappe did well to keep the ball alive, but couldnt find the net.
Andres Iniesta put the hosts ahead early in the second period, but Messi levelled soon afterwards.
Messi then got himself sent off after picking up his fifth yellow card of the tournament, meaning he will miss next week’s semi-final against Croatia.
FIFA WORLD CUP final player ratings: Mbappe heroics not enough as Messi wins at last
Argentina 3-3 France (5-4 on penalties): Lionel Messi scored his fifth goal of the tournament to win the World Cup for Argentina, while Kylian Mbappé hit a brace and Paul Pogba had a hand in three goals as France came up short against Croatia.
The five-time champions needed just four shots on target to beat hosts Russia 4-1 in the semi-final, but it took them 90 minutes to break down the Russians’ defence and score. They did so thanks to a brilliant free-kick from Gonzalo Higuain and a superb strike from Sergio Aguero.
France had been 2-0 ahead inside 14 minutes, though, when Antoine Griezmann put the ball into the net following a corner. But Argentina equalised soon afterwards when Messi fired home a header off a corner.
And the match turned into a rout in extra time when Mbappe gave France the lead with a stunning overhead kick. He doubled his tally shortly after half-time when he headed home a cross from N’Golo Kante.
Montioual then missed a golden chance to send the game into sudden death, hitting the post with a shot that bounced over the bar.
But the French captain converted the decisive penalty himself, sending goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon the wrong way.
Mbappe then added another late on, heading home a cross from Pogba.
‘Embarrassing’: World Cup final plays out in front of thousands of empty seats
The Qatar World Cup final played on Sunday afternoon saw the hosts take on France in Doha. With the match being held in the Gulf state, it seemed like there would be plenty of support for the home side. However, despite the fact that many people turned up to watch the game, the stadium was not filled to capacity.
Once the second half began, the number of empty tickets continued to rise, with thousands of seats remaining unoccupied throughout the 90 minutes. In total, around 8,500 seats remained empty during the entire match.
As the clock ticked down towards the end of the match, the number of empty spots grew larger still. At one stage, just over 5,000 seats were left vacant.
Despite the lack of spectators, the atmosphere inside the stadium was electric, with both teams showing no signs of fatigue. As the clock struck zero, the Argentine players celebrated wildly, while the French team looked somewhat confused.
Lionel Messi reduced to tears after winning World Cup with Argentina in all-time great final with France
Argentina captain Lionel Messi was reduced to emotional tears after lifting the World Cup with victory over France on Sunday. The Barcelona star had been desperate to win the tournament for his nation, having missed out on glory four years earlier in South Africa. He finally got his hands on the trophy on Sunday afternoon, scoring twice in the most memorable of finals.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner opened the scoring just before half-time, slotting home a penalty after being fouled by Paul Pogba. But he could not prevent France regaining the lead shortly afterwards, with Antoine Griezmann putting Les Bleus ahead following a swift counterattack.
However, Messi came storming back, equalising with a superb free kick in the 71st minute. And he eventually won the match with a brace in the 90th minute, before Mbappe added a third spot-kick to complete a remarkable comeback for France.
Messi celebrated wildly on the pitch, crying openly as he ran towards the corner flag. “I’m very happy,” he told reporters. “This is one of my dreams come true.”
He added: “We are champions. I am proud of what we did today. We gave everything. This is our moment. We showed character. We fought hard. We played well. We deserved to win.”
France coach Didier Deschamps admitted he was surprised by how close the match finished. “It was a fantastic final,” he said. “I expected a much bigger gap. We didn’t play badly, but we couldn’t score enough goals. They defended well and we didn’t do anything special.”
Deschamps praised Messi for his performance, saying: “He was exceptional. He was always dangerous. He was decisive. His movement was good. He took risks. He was brave. He was magnificent.”