In the wake of Argentina’s World Cup victory, world media praised the “heroic” efforts of French star Mbappé and ran out of superlatives for Lionel Messi, crowned as the “god of football”.
Images of him holding the trophy aloft and the team’s celebrations adorned news websites and social media feeds in Argentina.
Messi’s Argentina had won “the greatest final in history”, said the daily La Nacion, while Clarin described it as an “unforgettable” match.
The sports daily Ole’s homepage was splashed with: “We are world champions!”
The final was billed as a titanic showdown between Messi and French superstar Kylian Mbappé, and it did not disappoint.
While Messi scored twice to put Argentina in the lead, Mbappé inspired the French fightback with a hat-trick to take the final to penalties.
“Head held high,” read the headline on the front page of French sports daily L’Équipe, the text imposed on an image of Mbappé holding his Golden Boot prize as he walked past the World Cup trophy.
“Legendary,” said the front page of the daily Libération, with photos of both Messi and Mbappé, while Le Figaro described the French star’s efforts as “heroic”.
‘In the Hand of God’
Messi had cemented his place long ago among the greatest of all time, but the football world was abuzz ahead of the final with the prospect of the fleet-footed magician crowning his glittering career with the World Cup – the one major trophy he had never won.
And with Argentina’s win on Sunday, the debate about his stature in the history of the sport was settled for most.
In Britain, The Times said on its front page that Messi had won the “battle of modern maestros in greatest final”. On the front page of its sports section, it described him as, simply, “The Greatest”.
The Mirror called him the GOAT – “greatest of all time” – while The Sun said the World Cup was “In the Hand of God”, a cheeky reference to Maradona’s infamous goal against England in the 1986 tournament.
In Germany, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung also played on that reference with the headline “The foot of God” for Messi.
It called the Argentina-France showdown “the most exciting final” in World Cup history, while the daily Tagesspiegel said it showcased “two exceptional talents”.
Even in Brazil – an intense rival – the O Globo newspaper paid tribute to Messi, saying football had “paid its debt” to its biggest star.
In the United States, which will host the next World Cup with Canada and Mexico, a report in The Washington Post said Messi was finally rewarded in an “immortal” final.
Spain’s El Pais newspaper said Messi had been “crowned in the final of finals”.
And in Asia, where Messi has legions of fans, Indian newspaper The Hindu said his Argentina team had kept their “date with destiny”, while South Korean daily Hankook Ilbo called him a “god of football”.
The Rising Mbappe
The match had been billed as Messi versus Mbappe, but it was the little Argentinian who was having all the joy in Lusail. Messi — with the help of Angel Di Maria — had tormented the French backline.
With 10 minutes to go, Argentina were 2-0 up and cruising, passing the ball around comfortably.
In the stands, Les Bleus were outnumbered and out-cheered in the 89,000-capacity arena, swamped by a sea of sky blue and white jerseys. Most sat in silence, staring blankly at the green turf below, the Tricolours no longer waving.
Les Bleus needed an inspiration, almost a miracle.
Step forward Kylian Mbappe, the lightning-quick striker who led them to the 2018 trophy. Whenever the going gets tough, Les Bleus turn to their star forward.
Mbappe gave his team a lifeline, putting away a penalty with nine minutes to go.
But the 23-year-old was not finished. He followed it up with a sumptuous volley, bringing the score level and taking the match into extra time. It was his seventh goal of the tournament.
Suddenly, it was the French who were now smelling blood. The South Americans were holding on for dear life, as Mbappe was now on the charge.
But Messi, 35, had the reply. He put his team ahead in extra time. Mbappe replied from the penalty spot two minutes later. He had his hat-trick.
Mbappe becomes the second player to score a treble in a World Cup final. The last time it was done was in 1966 by England’s Geoff Hurst.
“We are witnessing a big legend in the making,” French fan Thierry Tiquant.
“We did not deserve to lose. Mbappe did not deserve to lose. That performance will be remembered forever.”
Mbappe secured the golden boot with his hat-trick; he scored a total of eight goals in Qatar.
“He really tried. He was the best player on the pitch today. I know many people will talk about Messi. But he played better than Messi tonight,” Maurice Toussaint said.
In Lusail, he became the youngest player to reach 10 World Cup goals. He broke the record at the tender age of 23 years and 363 days.
He surpassed the German Gerd Muller’s record of 24 years, 226 days.
Mbappe now has 11 World Cup goals and when the next edition of the tournament comes around, he will still only be 27 — a frightening prospect for his opponents.
“Mbappe is the future,” Malcolm Joseph said. “There is no player his age who is even close to how good he is. He is unbelievable.”