The World Cup had a hell of an ending

HIGHLIGHTS: Argentina triumph over France in brilliant final | World Cup 2022

but it wasn’t the greatest match ever.

The hyperbole started straight away after Argentina’s penalty shootout victory over France in the World Cup final but the hype didn’t match most of that match.

I suppose it helps when a large number of the World Cup finals are a bit of a damp squib, either boring nil-nillers, one-nillers, or a one side has run out of steam by the time they’ve reached the final so it’s a one sided affair.

But for the best part of normal time this was one of those one sided affair.

France didn’t turn up for 80 minutes. They were so awful that you expect to hear in the coming days that the illness that took down a couple of players had done for a few more. Lifeless and clueless Les Bleus looked more like Le Rosbif.

It was tedious back passes and giving the ball away when challenged, with no life or no pressure put on Argentina. For 60 minutes there was only one team in the game. For 80 minutes it didn’t even look like France would register a shot on target.

The change did come about an hour in when the Argentine manager substituted Di Maria, the thorn in France’s side for that hour and the scorer of their second goal. Now if he’d made a like for like change then that space on the French right was still there to exploit, but he went for Acuna instead, who had been woeful for most of the tournament and who was more likely to pass it back than cause the French more panic. Southgate would have made this substitution. Saying that he’d have probably started Acuna before Di Maria.

By that time Argentina were two up. They’d been that way for nearly half an hour. And as the second one went in, it was much like the first and the cries of “well, that should waken the French up” went up. It didn’t.

The first came from the spot, courtesy of the worst player on the pitch. Dembele had looked good in the opening game, but got worse and worse, throughout the tournament. Didn’t think he’d get this bad. It was still a surprise that he was hooked before half-time. It came just five minutes after Di Maria had doubled the lead.

The second was the best bit of football in the game up to that moment and for quite some time on. A flowing counter, one touch, going forward with purpose. A great flick by Messi, a great pass to Mac Allister, who had made a great run and a selfless ball to the scorer.

Then Deschamps made those changes. Can you imagine Southgate changing two of his starters, two of his favourites before the break? Dembele and Giroud made way and Mbappe was moved into the middle. Bizarrely he seemed to see less of the ball there than he had wide. But France did look better and it contributed to them getting back into it with 10 minutes of ordinary time to go.

By then the third player that Southgate would never have taken off, Griezmann, had departed. His no show in the final was probably the major factor in France’s no show. The man who had made France tick, on and off the ball, in previous games, was nowhere for most of the 70 minutes he was on the pitch.

It was the 80th minute when Otamendi pulled back and kicked Muani, one of those early substitutes, in the area, and the ref pointed to the spot. Mbappe took his penalty casually, the keeper got a hand to it but couldn’t stop it.

A minute later and that wasn’t a late consolation. All of a sudden there was fight in the French. Griezmann’s replacement, Coman who had been poor in his cameos so far, won the ball off Messi, thought he’d messed it up when slowing things down and passing sideways. Rabiot crossed it on to Mbappe, who nodded it down to Thuram, who lobbed it over the defender back for Mbappe to score a cracker.

The game had only just started as more happened that was a real footballing contest in that final 10 minutes and injury time than the previous 80.

It looked like Argentina were back on top in extra-time they were having all the chances, all the shots. And so it came just after the extra-time break. A good break into the French box and after Hugo had saved the initial shot, Messi’s attempt was well over the line before being cleared.

That looked to be that, the Argie manager was shutting up shop and France didn’t look to have an answer. Until minutes before the end. The ref pointed straight to the spot again. The ball had dropped to Mbappe at the edge of the Argie box, after a corner. His shot was blocked by a defender sticking his arm up. Again Mbappe put the spot kick away to become just the second player to score a hat-trick in the World Cup final. But with two pens it doesn’t count the same as Sir Geoff’s.

But France could have won it in the dying seconds but for a great save from Martinez. Which was shortly, very shortly followed up by a great chance for Argentina, in the breakaway from that save. But Lautaro Martinez was never going to score with the way it’s been going for him.

So it was penalties and the top players were up first. Mbappe and Messi, much like Kane and Ronaldo would be, not hiding like Naymar.

I just felt that after Mbappe who would take them for France, while Argentina had players who already succeeded from the spot in this tournament. France were left with non scorers and youngsters. Added to that Martiniz’s mind games and success in that previous penalty shootout victory. And so it panned out, while Hugo could have saved the first three Argentinian spot kicks, he didn’t.

Qatar got the final they wanted. The two star players for the club they own. Did they also get the result they wanted, a Messi victory? Well, it beats a joyous Macron, it was fun seeing the players trying to rip themselves free of his cloying grasp.

It was a cracking 40 minutes, plus injury time of football. It wasn’t the greatest game ever played. Much like this wasn’t the greatest ever World Cup, as I heard some say.

And England have a couple more years of Southgate dullard failure to look forward to… more on that later…

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