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Argentina, Lionel Messi win wild World Cup final on penalty kicks against France

Lionel Messi is a World Cup champion. Finally.

In his last World Cup appearance, Messi won the title that has eluded him throughout his illustrious career as Argentina beat France in a penalty shootout Sunday. Gonzalo Montiel, whose handball in extra time gave France a lifeline, made the final penalty, setting off a wild celebration among the Argentina players and their fans.

Messi waved to the fans as several of his teammates dissolved into tears.

While this game will be remembered for Messi’s majestic moment, it also will be remembered for Kylian Mbappe’s heroics. All but left for dead after a lethargic first 80 minutes, he scored twice in 90 seconds to force extra time and then, after Messi had scored, converted a penalty to force the shootout.

But this tournament is, and always was, going to be Messi’s defining moment. He scored Argentina’s first goal – on a penalty, of course – and had a sick flick to help set up the second, by his old friend Angel Di Maria. It is the third World Cup title for the Albiceleste, and first since Diego Maradona’s career-defining performance in 1986.

This World Cup is, and has been, all about Messi, however.

Messi had long ago established himself as the best player of his generation, winning seven Ballon d’Or trophies and four Champions League titles. He’s expanded the reach and appeal of this beautiful game, his iconic No 10 jersey – the light blue-and-white-striped Argentina version, in particular – found in every corner of the globe.

But there was one hole in his glittering resume, one counter to the argument that he’s not only the best now but the best of all time.

Argentina, Lionel Messi win wild World Cup final on penalty kicks against France
Argentina, Lionel Messi win wild World Cup final on penalty kicks against France

In Messi’s previous four World Cups, Argentina had made the final just once, losing to Germany in 2014. Pele, Maradona, Beckenbauer, Ronaldo (the original, not the later, lesser version), Zidane – all the other greats were World Cup champions.

At 35, Messi said before the tournament this would “surely” be his last World Cup, a statement he repeated several times over the last month, and winning the title became the driving force for both him and his Argentina teammates.

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