Lionel Messi crowned his glittering career with victory in the World Cup on Sunday as Argentina beat France on penalties in a final for the ages, triumphing 4-2 in the shoot-out after Kylian Mbappe’s hat-trick ensured the game ended level at 3-3 following extra time.
Gonzalo Montiel rolled in the deciding penalty to give Argentina their third World Cup and prevent France becoming the first team in 60 years to retain the trophy.
But a truly remarkable match saw Messi and Mbappe live up to their billing, with Messi scoring twice and Mbappe becoming the first player since England’s Geoff Hurst in 1966 to net a World Cup final hat-trick.
Messi opened the scoring with a penalty midway through the first half before Angel Di Maria doubled Argentina’s lead on the counter-attack in the 36th minute.
But the astonishing Mbappe breathed life into the holders as he pulled one back from the spot with 10 minutes left before equalising in stunning fashion just 60 seconds later to force extra time.
Messi then seemed to have decided the contest in Argentina’s favour once and for all when he scored again in the 109th minute, only for Mbappe to net another spot-kick, making it 3-3 and forcing a shoot-out.
The third World Cup final penalty shoot-out started with Messi and Mbappe both scoring, but Kingsley Coman’s next kick for France was saved and Aurelien Tchouameni then crucially missed the target.
It is the second time in five World Cups that France have lost the final on penalties after their defeat to Italy in 2006, and it is Argentina who are champions for the first time since 1986.
The win allows Messi, at 35, to complete his glorious career by emulating the great Diego Maradona.
“Obviously I wanted to finish my career with this. I can’t ask for any more,” he told Argentine television.
“My career is coming to end because these are my final years. What more could there be after this?”
But he said he would continue with the Argentina squad.
“I want to keep experiencing a few more matches as world champion,” he added.
This will be remembered as his tournament despite the best efforts of Mbappe, who finished as the top scorer on eight goals, one more than Messi.
“I don’t want to take any merit away from Argentina but there are lots and lots of emotions and it was cruel at the end because we were so close,” said France coach Didier Deschamps.
France’s quest for history was threatened by a virus in the days before the final and they appeared sluggish before Argentina went ahead.
Di Maria was clipped in the box by Ousmane Dembele, and Messi scored from the spot, his 12th World Cup goal allowing him to equal Pele’s tally.
Argentina then increased their lead as Messi and Julian Alvarez combined to release Alexis Mac Allister, and he played a first-time ball to the back post for Di Maria to finish.
Having hardly featured in the knockout rounds due to injury, Di Maria returned here and appeared tearful as he celebrated his goal, which was a World Cup final classic.
France had not even mustered a shot and Deschamps moved before the interval to replace Olivier Giroud and the struggling Dembele.
On came Randal Kolo Muani and Marcus Thuram, as Mbappe moved into the middle of the attack.
Argentina blow lead
Argentina had blown a two-goal lead before eventually emerging victorious in their last World Cup final triumph 36 years ago, but there appeared little prospect of a repeat of that scenario.
However, the French were suddenly given hope when they won a late penalty as Kolo Muani was brought down by Nicolas Otamendi.
Mbappe smashed in the spot-kick and the watching French President Emmanuel Macron rose to his feet. France had belief, and within another minute they were level.
Messi was robbed of possession by Coman in the lead-up, before Mbappe found Thuram and then met his partner’s knockdown with a stunning volley.
It will go down as one of the most dramatic moments in World Cup history, and the French players on the bench raced across the pitch to celebrate with their teammate.
Argentina, who lost the 2014 final in extra time, looked shattered, and yet it seemed again that they had won it when Messi netted after Lautaro Martinez’s shot was saved.
But France were once more saved by Mbappe as he converted another penalty following a Montiel handball.
Argentina needed a brilliant Emiliano Martinez save from Kolo Muani to force penalties before Montiel’s deciding kick sparked wild celebrations.
© Agence France-Presse