In what has been one of the greatest sporting spectacles of all time, Lionel Messi and Argentina deservedly walk away with the greatest prize of them all – the World Cup trophy.
The tournament was full of twists and turns right from the get-go, and as soon as the final ball was kicked, fans wanted to start the journey all over again.
We look back over the best moments and how the unforgettable story panned out.
Kicking off the Qatar 2022 World Cup, the host nation took on Ecuador after an opening ceremony highlighting the cultural heritage of the Arab world and the importance of the first edition of the competition to be held in the Middle East.
Taking a 2-0 victory, Ecuador kick-started what would be a very memorable group stage that would see major upsets, jaw-dropping individual and team performances, and, most crucially, the elimination of half the teams.
Highlights of the group stage were Japan’s incredible achievement, finishing above Spain to win the group of death and eliminating Germany in the process, South Korea’s last-minute winner against Portugal that saw them into the knockout stages for only the third time in their history, and the incredible group topping performance of Morocco against Canada, Croatia and Belgium.
Round of 16
It was hoped that an exciting knockout stage would follow the group matches, and to the footballing world’s delight, this was certainly the case.
The knockouts started well for England fans, who saw their side, one of the favourites, defeat a strong Senegal comfortably with a resounding 3-0 that triggered genuine discussion among English TV pundits and perhaps even around the world that this could be their year.
Other highlights of a goal-fest round of 16 were Brazil and Portugal’s emphatic 4-1 and 6-1 wins over South Korea and Switzerland and, of course, Morocco’s penalty win over 2010 World Champions Spain, a result that almost nobody predicted.
Already looking to be one of the most entertaining World Cups to date, the Qatar 2022 quarter-finals did not disappoint.
It wasn’t to be for England, as they had their changes, but just came up short against a France side that used their experience of the big occasion to grind out a 2-1 win.
With such a young, talented team the best could still be ahead for Gareth Southgate’s side though, and they are early third-favourites at 13/2 to win Euro 2024.
Tournament favourites Brazil had been completely dominant in their round of 16 fixture, and with the players at their disposal, most fans expected them to get through a tie with Croatia relatively easily. It would prove to be the very opposite, as the 2018 finalists showed their mettle with a defensive masterclass and incredible late comeback with three minutes of extra time to play.
The footballing miracle that is Croatia then showed their character once again, scoring all four of their penalties to book their place in the semi-final. It was an embarrassment for Brazil, who had looked so promising just days before.
More drama would come in the evening as Lionel Messi’s drive for his elusive World Cup winners medal continued.
In his way stood Netherlands, but after Messi scored Argentina’s second from the spot to put them 2-0 up it looked as if a semi-final spot beckoned. However, there was more drama to unfold as two late goals from substitute Wout Weghorst put history in jeopardy, his equalising goal undoubtedly going down as one of the best World Cup free kick goals of all time.
However, Argentina went on to win on penalties, as Messi and co could not be stopped.
Reaching the final with 3-0 and 2-0 wins over Croatia and, Morocco, Argentina, thanks to a mesmeric performance from Lionel Messi and France with the help of Kylian Mbappe, the two sides set up what would have been many fans predicted final showdown from the beginning of the tournament and a match that was billed Messi v Mbappe – or the passing of the baton from the master to the apprentice.
It more than lived up to expectations and undoubtedly delivered the best World Cup final of all time and one of the most enthralling edge-of-the-seat football matches ever played. The script seemed to have been written beforehand, and it was Messi who triumphed, scoring two on the night and converting his penalty in the tense shootout to win him the most coveted football prize of all, one that cements him as potentially the best football player of all time.
Player of the tournament
Lionel Messi deservedly took home this prize with seven goals, three assists and a winner’s medal, making him the only player to win the golden ball at two World Cups. Travelling home to Argentina before continuing his season with PSG, Messi is 10/1 to be the top scorer in Ligue 1 over 2022/23.
Special mentions must go to Luka Modric and Kylian Mbappe, who played their socks off from start to finish and could just as easily have taken the award. With a hat trick in the final – the only player to do so since Geoff Hurst in 1966 – Mbappe carried off the Golden Boot, having scored eight goals over the course of the tournament. He already has 12 World Cup goals to his name and looks likely to become the leading World Cup goal scorer of all time in future tournaments.
Goal of the tournament
This one is not as clear cut, with a number of goals well in the running, including a few of Messi’s and Mbappe’s. Argentina’s second goal of the final was a thing of sheer beauty that involved some of the most exquisite one-touch passing of the entire tournament, a Messi flick, and a perfectly weighted through ball for Angel Di Maria to slot into the bottom corner.
However, Luis Chavez’s stunning free kick will likely go down in most fans’ books as the best of the tournament. It was as if his shot from 35 years that flew into the top corner was driven by a sledgehammer, leaving the sprawling keeper absolutely helpless.
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