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There's No Debate Now: Lionel Messi Is the GOAT After World Cup Final Master Class

Megan SwanickDecember 18, 2022

LUSAIL CITY, QATAR - DECEMBER 18: Lionel Messi of Argentina celebrates after the team's victory in the penalty shoot out during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final match between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Lusail City, Qatar. (Photo by Shaun Botterill - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

Lionel Messi played the lights out of Lusail Stadium in Qatar.

After gripping drama that went all the way to penalties, Messi is champion of the world.

Now 35, the "Messi-ah" from Rosario has (finally) collected the ultimate football trophy. He'll place that prize in a crowded cabinet, beside his numerous Ballon d'Or awards, his extensive La Liga titles, his Champions League accolades. He's won 35 trophies with Barcelona, two with Paris Saint-Germain and three now with Argentina.

But the World Cup trophy is the most sought-after crown of them all, eluding even the brightest stars.

As Messi lifts it, the debate should be settled for good: He is the greatest player of all time. No other footballer has achieved what he has, as long as he has, at so many levels of the game. The international piece missing from his cabinet is acquired.

Messi is the champion of the world and the best in the world. We may never find one like him again.

Here's a breakdown of all that happened from possibly the greatest World Cup Final of them all.


LUSAIL CITY, QATAR - DECEMBER 18: Julian Alvarez, Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria of Argentina celebrate 2nd goal during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final match between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Lusail City, Qatar. (Photo by Richard Sellers/Getty Images)
Richard Sellers/Getty Images

A Masterful First Half from Argentina

Argentina looked like the inevitable victor in the first half as Messi performed on an otherworldly level.

He struck at all the right moments, making plays no other player has the sight or touch to find. He was joined in performance by reliable stalwarts and burgeoning young talents in his squad.

Ángel Di María—himself 34, shaking off injury—got the surprise start and was formidable on the left wing. Di María was indispensable to early Argentine domination as he tied his opposing counterpart Jules Koundé in knots, making him look out of depth. Di María drew the penalty, enticing Ousmane Dembélé to give the foul that led to Argentina's first goal. Thirteen minutes later, he put the second one away after a rapid Argentine counterattack.

Joe Prince-Wright @JPW_NBCSports

🔥 Put this goal in a museum. Brilliant passing and movement. <br><br>Lovely flick from Lionel Messi. Love the way Angel di Maria hit the ball into the floor on the finish. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ARG?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ARG</a> 2-0 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/FRA?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#FRA</a> <a href="https://t.co/nSKXweMq3n">pic.twitter.com/nSKXweMq3n</a>

The French were lucky to only be down 2-0 after the first 45 as Les Bleus failed to register a shot on target. Messi was at the center as a surprisingly listless France side looked bewildered by a blue-and-white storm that hit them hard.


LUSAIL CITY, QATAR - DECEMBER 18: Lionel Messi (10) of Argentina and Kylian Mbappe (10) of France wait for the extra time to start during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final match between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Lusail City, Qatar. (Photo by Ercin Erturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Ercin Erturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Mbappé Flips the Script

It was all going to plan: a sure coronation for Messi and the Albiceleste as Buenos Aires and Argentina fans worldwide readied for the biggest party you'd ever see.

And then it flipped late in the second half. Seemingly out of nowhere in the 80th minute, Nicolás Otamendi fouled Randal Kolo Muani cutting into the box, gifting a penalty to France. It was Kylian Mbappé's turn to stand where Messi had in the first half and send the penalty home that shifted the pace.

Telemundo Deportes @TelemundoSports

🇫🇷 ¡¡¡GOOOOOOOOOOOOL DE FRANCIAAAAAAAAA!!! 🇫🇷<br><br>🙌 ¡KYLIAAAAAAN MBAPPÉ! ¡EL CRACK FRANCÉS DICE PRESENTE! <br><br>✅ 6º gol y empata a Messi en goles ⚽️<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ARG?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ARG</a> 2-1 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/FRA?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#FRA</a><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MundialTelemundo?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#MundialTelemundo</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ElMundialLoEsTodo?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ElMundialLoEsTodo</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Qatar2022?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Qatar2022</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ARGvsFRA?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ARGvsFRA</a> <a href="https://t.co/UyXzctSMy0">pic.twitter.com/UyXzctSMy0</a>

Mbappé rushed to the net to surface the ball and restart. And within 70-odd seconds, he tucked the ball into the net a second time.

In future years, we may talk of Mbappé in the same vein as Messi. His World Cup final effort will not be forgotten, and his audacious volleyed goal for his second of the night will be evidence of his greatness.

Telemundo Deportes @TelemundoSports

🤯 ¡AHHHHHHHH! <br><br>😱 ¡FRANCIA CERCA DEL GOL! ¡INCREÍBLE LOS ÚLTIMOS MINUTOS!<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ARG?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ARG</a> 2-2 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/FRA?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#FRA</a><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MundialTelemundo?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#MundialTelemundo</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ElMundialLoEsTodo?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ElMundialLoEsTodo</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Qatar2022?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Qatar2022</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ARGvsFRA?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ARGvsFRA</a> <a href="https://t.co/GSqRpGCP44">pic.twitter.com/GSqRpGCP44</a>

The French, largely lethargic throughout the final, found inspiration led by their own No. 10. An epic World Cup tournament was going to extra time. The added 30 minutes would be no less dramatic.


Messi and Mbappé Trade Goals in Extra Time

Despite the long, intense tournament, both Messi and Mbappé were at their irrepressible best. Messi continued to be talismanic in the extra period. Mbappé had arisen from his slumber, and Messi was still cooking at high heat.

Messi struck first.

Telemundo Deportes @TelemundoSports

🇦🇷 ¡¡¡GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL DE ARGENTINAAAAAAAAAA!!! 🇦🇷<br><br>🙌 ¡¡¡LEEEEEOOOOOOOOOOOOOO MEEEEEEEEESSIIIIII!!! ¡DOBLETEEEEEEE DE LEEEEOOOOO!<br><br>🏆 ¡A MINUTOS DE SER CAMPEONES!<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ARG?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ARG</a> 3-2 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/FRA?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#FRA</a><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MundialTelemundo?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#MundialTelemundo</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ElMundialLoEsTodo?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ElMundialLoEsTodo</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Qatar2022?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Qatar2022</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ARGvsFRA?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ARGvsFRA</a> <a href="https://t.co/49Yd3TYmQB">pic.twitter.com/49Yd3TYmQB</a>

Lautaro Martínez collected a long ball down to Messi. Messi tapped it to Enzo Fernández, who sent it back to Martínez for the shot. Waiting in front of the net, Messi found the rebound deflected by Hugo Lloris and collected his seventh goal of the 2022 World Cup.

Ten minutes later, France found a response. An ill-timed handball brought another penalty for Les Bleus. And in the 118th minute of extra time, Mbappe was back waiting at the place. Sending it home, Mbappé collected a hat trick and the Golden Boot.

The lottery of the penalty shootout awaited both teams.

Argentina's forward #10 Lionel Messi takes the first penalty of his team to score past France's goalkeeper #01 Hugo Lloris during the penalty shoot-out of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football final match between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, north of Doha on December 18, 2022. (Photo by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP) (Photo by ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images)
ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images

Unsurprisingly, Mbappé and Messi didn't miss their respective penalties. It was now out of their control.

But their World Cup final duel will be long remembered. Mbappé may not have won the day, but he established himself as Messi's heir apparent as the best player in the world.

Unfortunately for the PSG superstar, Messi's teammates wouldn't be deterred.


Emi Martínez Is Argentina's Penalty Hero Again

It's been quite the journey for Emiliano Martínez. After spending years toiling on loan and in the reserves for Arsenal, the 30-year-old Aston Villa goalkeeper has come to prominence for his bold character and his ability to stop penalties.

Alongside many of Messi's teammates ushering him toward the final prize, he deserves his moment of praise tonight.

With the pressure on, he performed with aplomb, stopping a Kingsley Coman penalty and overseeing the miss of another in a penalty shootout that went Argentina's way.

Argentina had many heroes besides Messi, from Martínez to young stars like Fernández and Julián Álvarez. But no other player deserves as much credit as Martínez.


LUSAIL CITY, QATAR - DECEMBER 18: Lionel Messi of Argentina celebrates on Sergio Aguero of Argentina's shoulders with the FIFA World Cup Trophy following his team's victory in during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final match between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Lusail City, Qatar. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)
Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Messi's Legacy as the GOAT Secured

After Gonzalo Montiel's final penalty crashed into the net, we can finally put some things to rest.

One is the long streak of a European team winning the men's World Cup, as Argentina became the first side outside Europe to do it since Brazil in 2002.

The other is the long debate regarding the legacies of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The latter departed this tournament far earlier, shrouded in controversy and with no trophies to his name. Ronaldo has never scored in a World Cup knockout game and almost assuredly will never win the World Cup. The 2022 World Cup was Messi's crowning achievement; for Ronaldo, it was the final whimper of an epic career.

Mbappé is next in line to inherit the world of football from those two giants, and in years to come, he may reach their level.

Past legends have been referred to as the GOAT. Diego Maradona, Messi's cultural and spiritual predecessor, comes to mind, and his 1986 World Cup win with Argentina was the measuring stick by which Messi was judged. Pelé dominated his era with no equal.

But none have achieved for so long and on so many stages of the game.

Messi has surpassed them all, winning everything at every level in dominant fashion. In the pantheon of football's best, the quiet 5'7" magician stands above them all.

Now a World Cup champion, with seven goals this tournament, an incredible final performance and some of his best-ever play along the way, perhaps we can finally agree: Lionel Messi is the greatest footballer of all time.