Gonzalo Montiel’s decisive penalty kick in the FIFA World Cup 2022 final marked the end of a long and emotional journey for Argentine captain Lionel Messi. Eight years earlier, Messi had found himself on the opposite side of the result, with the Golden Ball in hand and tears streaming down his face after losing the final match. But in Qatar, things were different. Though he was no longer a Barcelona player and was now 35 years old, Messi entered the tournament as a Copa America winner and was determined to lead Argentina vs France to their first World Cup victory in 36 years.
Throughout the tournament, Messi showcased his exceptional playmaking abilities, often dropping deep to carry the ball into the final third and create opportunities for his teammates. Though he ran the least of any of his teammates, his passing skills were on full display as he combined with players like Alexis Mac Allister and Nicolas Otamendi to score against Australia, and nutmegged defender Nathan Ake to deliver a perfect pass to Nahuel Molina in the quarterfinals against the Netherlands. Kylian Mbappe’s amazing World Cup final hat trick was in vain as Argentina grabbed the legendary trophy and the French hero was left sad. However, Martinez took the opportunity to move away from celebrations and seek out Mbappe to console him after a magnificent game.
But it was against Croatia in the semifinals that Messi truly shone, dribbling along the right flank and cutting back for a cross to Julian Alvarez in a move that left Croatia’s 20-year-old defender Josko Gvardiol looking like a bumbling court jester. In the final match against France, Messi once again made quick runs from midfield and waited for the right moment to strike, ultimately scoring the final goal for Argentina in a counterattack that saw the ball pass from Lautaro Martinez to Messi and then to Enzo Fernandez as the three charged into the French penalty box. Lautaro’s shot was saved by Lloris, but Messi was there to finish it off and secure the victory for his team.
In the end, Messi’s skill and leadership were key to Argentina’s success, and his tears at the final whistle were no doubt a mix of relief and joy at finally achieving the long-awaited victory. He may no longer be the scurrying 27-year-old forward he was in 2014, but he has only grown as a player and a leader, using his expertise and experience to guide his team to the top.