Lionel Messi perhaps settled the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) debate as he led Argentina to the World Cup victory in the World Cup final against France on Sunday.
It was made possible as Argentina won the shootout 4-2 after a spectacular game which developed into the much-anticipated confrontation between Messi, 35, and his France opposite number Kylian Mbappe, who was just two days of his 24th birthday.
The clash of titans undoubtedly turned out to be one the greatest football game of all time and certainly the best final we have ever seen as the pendulum swung from one way to the other.
France, the defending champions were out and clueless, until the 80th minute when Mbappe converted a penalty to give his side a sniff. And just a minute later, he netted the ball again by hitting a volley from the top of the box to draw the match level – one of the best goals on a volley you could see.
Before these two goals, Argentine’s dominance can be gauged by the fact that France didn’t a touch in their opponents’ box for over 65 minutes.
Earlier, Messi was into his rhythm within minutes of the kickoff, demanding possession and conducting traffic with his customary grace, picking up Angel Di Maria repeatedly down the left flank.
And when Di Maria drew a foul from Ousmane Dembele inside the area in 21 minutes, Messi stepped up to coolly fire his team into the lead with a nerveless penalty, his 97th international goal and his 12th in World Cups.
He then contributed a delicate touch within a magnificent counter-attack that ended with Mac Allister setting up Di Maria for the second 13 minutes later.
At this point, it seemed that Argentina had grabbed the trophy but France were still there to thrill the crowd around the globe as their President Emmanuel Macron was at the stadium to encourage his side.
However, Mbappe’s brilliance meant that the show would continue and reminded the people what Argentina had went through after leading by 2-0 against the Netherlands in the quarterfinal.
And then came extra time as the two sides remained tied at 2-2 after 90 minutes of regular play. It produced more drama with Argentina leading for the second time in the match.
Inevitably it was Messi who gave them hope again, showing he was happy to do the dirty work by turning home a scrambled finish in the box in the second period of extra time [108th minute] – only for Mbappe to answer again [118th minute].
But Argentina prevailed on penalties 4-2 and Messi was the centre of attention when Montiel sent the decisive penalty past France keeper Hugo Lloris.
Mbappe brilliant hat-trick for losing cause
Mbappe cemented his status as one of the game’s modern greats with only the second hat-trick in a World Cup final, following Sir Geoff Hurst’s when England beat West Germany in 1966. But the 23-year-old still suffered the pain of defeat.
He was as anonymous as most of his team for the first 80 minutes, ill-served amid an unfathomably poor France display – which they put in despite seeking to become the first side to retain the trophy since Brazil did so 60 years ago, and only the third ever after Italy won in 1934 and 1938.
Didier Deschamps, the French manager, even made two substitutions before half-time, replacing Olivier Giroud and Dembele with Marcus Thuram and Randal Kolo Muani.
And yet it was Mbappe who revived France in those sensational seconds when they went from looking like timid losers to potential winners, then getting his third from the spot after Messi had put Argentina back in front.
In a stunning period of extra time during which both sides exchanged chances, France could have won but for a superb last-gasp save by Martinez with his outstretched boot from Muani.
Instead, Mbappe will find history no consolation as he was embraced by his team-mates and French Macron at the end of this enthralling spectacle.