In what will surely go down as one of the best World Cup finals of all time, Argentina defeated France in penalty kicks for their third title. The match ended 3-3 after extra time as Argentina blew two leads but held on in a dramatic shootout, winning it 4-2. Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi both lived up to their billing as the world's biggest stars with Messi first converting a penalty to give Argentina the lead and then setting up the counterattack which ultimately ended with the ball at Angel Di Maria's feet to give Argentina a 2-0 lead. But this game was just getting started.
Kylian Mbappe converted a penalty and added a second shortly after to complete France's first comeback of the night and send the match into extra time. Once there, in the second half, it was Messi who again pulled Argentina ahead, converting on a scramble in front of goal, but again Mbappe pulled France equal, converting a penalty after Argentina was whistled for a handball.
In penalties, Mbappe and Messi went first for their respective clubs and both converted for their teams, leaving their supporting casts to define the title. Argentinian keeper Emiliano Martinez then became the hero. He saved one penalty, then Aurelian Tchouameni missed another for France and that was all it took for Argentina to win a battle for the ages 4-2 on penalties.
When the game began it certainly did not seem like a classic was about to develop. With Di Maria starting his first game for Argentina since the group stage finale against Poland, the Argentine side overwhelmed France out of the gate. Di Maria drew a foul in the box from an unnecessary challenge by Ousmane Dembele to give Argentina a penalty. Messi wouldn't miss from the spot against Hugo Lloris to net his sixth goal of the tournament which put him in the lead in the Golden Boot race over Kylian Mbappe, a race which, as it turned out, had miles left to be run.
Messi has converted four of five penalties during the World Cup but this was the biggest of the bunch. He also became the first male player to score at every stage of the World Cup. Things quickly went from bad to worse for Les Blues when Alexis Mac Allister played in Di Maria for a lovely goal 36 minutes into the match.
Didier Deschamps responded by withdrawing Oliver Giroud and Dembele for Marcus Thuram and Randal Kolo Muani but it didn't improve the attack in the first half as France finished it without a single shot. Despite their dominance in attack during the World Cup, Argentina were able to stop France in their tracks due to the strength of their midfield trio.
Things would change late in the match as Nicolas Otamendi conceded a penalty in a one on one situation with Kolo Muani. Mbappe converted his chance from the spot and France came to life. In the blink of an eye, Mbappe would net another to level the score 2-2 as Argentina wobbled late to let a comfortable lead vanish.
Laturo Martinez came into the match in extra time but continued his poor world cup. His first shot was blocked by Dayot Upamecano but he was played clean through France's defense again and dragged his shot wide. But, in the second half of extra time, Martinez did get a shot on target that rebounded to Messi to just cross the line putting Argentina ahead and seemingly wrapping up the title. But this game just would not quit.
The goal was canceled out by Gonzalo Montiel's hand ball on an Mbappe shot. Mbappe didn't miss on his second penalty of the match, a goal which clinched the Golden Boot for the French superstar, to send the match into a penalty shootout.
France even had a chance to win in extra with Kolo Muani bearing down on Martinez but he wasn't able to take his chance, ensuring a record fifth penalty shootout at this World Cup. Once there, both Messi and Mbappe did their jobs to lead off for their respective teams, and then it was Argentinian keeper Emiliano Martinez's turn to shine. He saved Kingsley Coman's attempt before Aurelian Tchouameni fired wide for France. Meanwhile after Messi, late substitute Paulo Dybala converted followed by Leandro Paredes and Gonzalo Montiel to clinch the shootout, and Lionel Messi's first World Cup title 4-2.
Here are a few takeaways from the match
The stars delivered
While a hat trick wasn't enough for Kylian Mbappe to win the World Cup, he came to life with everything on the line for France and was able to will them back into the match. Despite not really touching the ball during the first half, Mbappe sprang to life scoring with all three of his shots on target and taking six shots overall. At only 23, Mbappe will be back at this stage and he's more than ready for the spotlight.
Along with Mbappe, Messi may have lost the Golden Boot but winning the Golden Ball and the overall tournament are more than enough for one of the greatest players to ever play the game. Even when Messi was running on fumes later in the match, he was able to track back when needed and scored a critical third goal. Messi's confident penalty in the shootout also helped set the tone for Argentina to go on and win the match.
Emi Martinez is unstoppable
This isn't the first time that Martinez's heroics have shown through in a shootout as even during this World Cup he was called upon to stop the Netherlands in Argentina's quarterfinal match, but his rise is remarkable. From a backup at Arsenal into the number one role for Aston VIlla and Argentina and two international tournaments later and Martinez is rising into legendary status as a goalkeeper. The saves are one thing for the Golden Glove winner, but it's his gamesmanship that brings Martinez to another level.
When Martinez stopped Coman's penalty in the shootout, his celebrations and antics help unsettle the opposition and it's hard to believe they didn't help influence Tchuameni to miss France's next penalty as well. Martinez is able to talk and get in players heads, but also back it up in his shot-stopping abilities, which makes him a terrifying keeper to face in a knockout scenario and an unbelievable asset to the team.
These teams aren't going anywhere
Already facing each other at consecutive World Cups, Argentina will have an impossible hole to fill without Messi but they have the talent to evolve into the next generation. Enzo Fernandez had an excellent match and picked up an award as the best young player of the tournament and Mac Allister also shined. Julian Alvarez had a match to forget but scored four goals during the Word Cup. He has played a major role in getting Argentina this title. They'll all be involved in shaping the next generation of Argentinian soccer while France's conveyor belt of talent keeps moving.
Mbappe is still improving as he ages and Aurelien Tchouameni is also only 22. WIth young players getting experience even on the bench, France will certainly be among the favorites to reach the final in 2026 which would be a thrid straight appearance for them as Les Blues look to continue a remarkable age of dominance.