The 2022 Qatar world cup finals in a bit!

By Nkem Alu

To say that soccer has never been this pulsating is an understatement. In recent tourneys it’s been the quarter or semi finals proving hotter and more entertaining that the actual finals. But today Argentina and France did a global show that will be remembered for many decades to come.

This outing in Qatar has more than anything else exposed the strongholds and weaknesses of the world’s most inspiring national teams, especially the defending champions France. The very porous defence and fallible midfield structure of the French team was damn too worrisome even as early as when they played against England and Morocco, but both countries failed to take advantage of the loopholes of France. They preferred to pay too much respect to the defending champions, and they paid something else in addition.

Apologies to Antoine Griezmann and co in the midfield, you did your best but it wasn’t just good enough, worse still against a complete team like Argentina. The first half saw Argentina dictating the pace with all agility musterable under the sun. The game plan was to use returnee Di Maria as pole man, to decelerate attention from Messi who would more or less dictate the pace of the game. Indeed the young Argentine coach thought deep enough.

Di Maria was busy enjoying himself and mesmerising the French defence around Kounde’s right bloc and Argentina’s left flank till Dembele fouled him in the 18 yard box and a penalty was awarded. Of course when it’s Lionel Messi stepping forward to take a penalty, writers always write before he scores. And Messi did! He just completed the route of scoring at every stage of this world cup, the first player in world cup history to do so. Then the world went astir in jubilation; yes, I mean every part of the world where good football is admired!

Argentina was still relishing the moment when a history course topic got created by the making of a very complex-to-do, but easy-to-watch 7-touch goal from the Argentine half of the pitch. Tip-tap and tap-tip it was, interlaced with brilliant runs, before the next blink it was another goal. This time it was Di Maria finishing the bout with his traditional left leg. Then everybody concluded that it was over with France, especially because of their lackadaisical attitude to the match then.

For the first time in as many matches Mbappe was perfectly packaged out of show, still worsened by the lack of supply by his midfielders. Of course, by making two changes in the first half of a match of this calibre, Didier Deschamps dramatically admitted that he got his initial tactics totally wrong. Argue that?

As the battle wore on, it was clear why Thuram came in for Giroud, then thereafter, a bit of life came to the mid-field, but it did not last long, the pack of cards soon collapsed again, and in split seconds the camera men were picking Deschamps conferring intermittently with his assistant; more like ‘what should I do that I haven’t done?’ Yet the Argentines looked like they were 16 players on the pitch; all darting about like field rocket-meteorites shot from an electric device. Then the first half halted.

The ‘sparklessness’ of the French team was nonetheless, the first show of the second half, so much that rough play began to manifest. The Albiceleste script was again being acted out while the French psyche waned to the extent that even gentle Mbappe became an ankle twister at some point. Then all of a sudden Alvares decided to test Lloris at the right edge and the overworked French keeper came alive with a full length leftwards dive, thereby law-parrying off the ball. Messi soon followed with a right leg curl after a Di Maria pass which was penultimate to some dribbles; then off it went, nearly side-netting!

It appeared that the black-peopled French team was reviving at this point, then Romero and Otamendi switched to reserve tanks, calling other defenders also to duty, to checkmate mobile Thuram who seemed to have woken up countryman Griezemann to duty. And they did, each man to his brother’s bidding. When stout-looking Acuna came in to replace Di Maria, it was clear that Lionel Messi’s namesake, Coach Lionel Scaloni had concluded that his team had won the match.

Like everything wonderful, the match began to resuscitate on many sides at the same time. It didn’t take long before the pacy and lanky Kolo Muani whispered himself into the Argentine 18 yard box to do the needful, but Otamendi fouled him the 79th minute. And then before you could say ‘Messi’, Mbappe converted the penalty and adrenaline went up everywhere. Three minutes later, at 82 minutes of regulation time Mbappe did yet another one and frenzy overtook frost. What a pulsating moment it was.

The young men brought in by French coach, Deschamps had changed the game, especially Kinglsey Coman who made it a point of duty to outrun Messi each time. The older Argentines were losing gas every inch now, and one wondered why Scaloni made only 2 changes so far. At the end of 90 minutes regulation time both sides were steaming from all ducts noticeable!

Fair to say that the Argies started wearing out at the 70th minute of regular time and above, but the elder statesman Messi was still everywhere running like it was in the days of the Netherlands mundial in 2005 where he, alongside Mikel Obi and Taye Taiwo were gold, silver and bronze pickers respectively. The diminutive one till date, plays like an air force propeller aircraft with more spare engines than the regular, having cruised and bombarded through incredible warfronts over the decades, and yet battle ready!

While Didier Deschamps’ young boys rattled their fathers in the lighter blue hue, another strategy was in the offing; bring on your boys, Argy, let’s give it to them boys for boys. Then in the heat of the extra time Argentina scored again, and it was no less a person than the usual. While tears of joy were flowing and drying up France got a penalty just two minutes to the end of extra time and Mbappe did his ‘thing’ yet again, thereby getting a hat trick. It was 3-3!

At this time it was clear that the penalty shootout lottery was in the compulsory offing. Do I need to write you how Messi and Mbappe signed their signatures first and shifted for others to finish off? Of course the young boys of France who returned vigour to the match earlier were also the ones that blew it off during the penalties, and the rest became history.

Both goal keepers; Lloris and Martinez have been my best from the outset of the tournament, and they proved it to the end. While it is admitted that the encounter was not a stroll in a tea park, Messi deserves the victory he got, after all. What a way to end an illustrious national team career. He has won everything and in style too. Mbappe is a star for the future, just like the young Argentines who were already showing signs of running and dazzling like Maradona and Messi in one fell swoop. Finally Argentina won 4-2 on penalties.

For the records, Lionel Messi just finished playing his 26th game at the world cup, his first win and Argentina’s third win. The seven-time ballon d’or winner, 10-time La-liga championship winner, four-time UEFA champions league winner, plus copa America and now, world cup, is no minnow in the game. Am I done running his trophies and medals here? If you remember anyone I forgot, just add it as you read and you’ve made my day.

And for this tournament, the individual awards run as follows; [i] Best player of the tournament and golden ball winner – Lionel Messi of Argentina, [2] Young player of the year – Enzo Fernandez of Argentina, [3] Golden Gloves winner – Emiliano Martinez of Argentina, and [4] Golden boots winner – Kylian Mbappe of France.

Now the expedient questions; [1] Has there been an eclipse of football in the hemisphere, in which Argentina overtook Brazil? [2] Is it now time to say ‘football was made in Argentina, not Brazil’? [3] Has Lionel Messi now become the greatest football player of all time, or is he number three behind Edson Arantes Do Nascimento, AKA, Pele of Brazil who was labelled ‘the greatest’ by FIFA and Diego Armando Maradona of Argentina, also globally debated as one of the greatest things that ever happened to the beautiful game?

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