The game is over and the shouting has begun. Messi and Argentina rule the headlines across the world and all over India. A fitting conclusion to a magnificent tournament-that's the universal verdict.

Look at the records now broken, the deferred dreams realised by the country and its talented captain. This glorious victory satisfies our notion of the fitness of things. Argentina has been thirsting to confirm its domination of the world of football ever since the last victory of 1986 was tainted by Maradona's "hand of God" controversy. And, after a record five attempts, surely Captain Messi deserves to take home the elusive FIFA trophy, just when he is preparing to quit the arena, at the peak of form even at the ripe old age of 35!

In the uproar of such a popular victory, no one has a bone to throw at Runner-up France. Yet, there were records at stake there too. A history of a comeback that would have seemed impossible a decade back. A convincing World Cup run of stunning victories and a nail-biting final match that more than met our expectations from this wonderful game.

My slide into World Cup paranoia began in 1982, when I caught the madness from fellow students in Paris. Since then, I have cheered on two favourite teams through eleven World Cups. My first loyalty is to Brazil, whose twinkling footwork always mesmerises me.

The right foot of one Brazilian player conveys the ball to the left foot of another as if both were parts of a single creature driven by a common will. The poetry of the teamwork of the five-time Cup winners always seduces. When Brazil crashes out of the running, I lose interest in the outcome or transfer support to the second favourite, France.

There is nothing rational about this loyalty. The country and its irascible population are close to the heart from the time I have spent there and it has become my "pays secondaire", a home away from home. So, when Brazil left the field in Russia in 2018 and now in Qatar, I had my cheers ready for la France.

Even though I had fully empathised with Argentinian fans, while watching the 2014 Cup final among them in Argentina and sharing their disappointment at being edged out by a superior German team. My attitude towards the French team is similar to that of its own countrymen. It has nothing reverential about it.

The French are candid and explosive when they discuss their team's performance. They exaggerate the faults of their players and are always apprehensive, never hopeful. And yet, this team has had a golden run, coming back to defeat formidable opponents-the Danes, Australians and Poles. And, of course their closest neighbour and greatest rival, the English. None of this seemed possible a decade back.

After slogging it out with Italy in a close final under Zinedine Zidane's captainship in 2006, the 2010 World Cup was a shameful and damaging exercise for French football. The team struggled to qualify for the tournament and viewers in South Africa were treated to the dismal spectacle of a mutiny against the coach, with France finishing at the bottom of the group table, without notching up a single victory.

During the 2014 FIFA in Brazil, while lazing around on Copacabana beach watching games on huge TV screens, we listened to French fans roundly criticising the politics and conceit of their team members. French supporters were disgusted and contemptuous. In their view, hubris had deservedly overtaken the team.

They assured us that the older offenders had since been discarded and a new set were getting their act together. But the fans were watching them closely, not yet ready to certify that they were fit for World Cup status. Yet, four years later, in Russia, this was the team that took the Cup home!

At a friend's invitation, I watched the 2018 final among a horde of Indian fans on a huge screen at a posh Bangalore venue. A group in which almost everyone cheered on the underdogs Croatia, while I feebly squeaked out my support for les bleus.

The French won and they were back in the finals again four years later. Proof of the qualities which even their countrymen had not expected them to display. Spunk, consistency and strategy! And the final match, just played, showed them at their worst and their best.

Till the halftime bell had rung, the team led by goalkeeper Lloris was a disaster. The ball was rarely at their feet or in the Argentinean half of the field. No sign of Mbappe magic or a coherent plan.

Were these really the titleholders, one wondered. How had they even reached the finals? True, the first Argentinian goal was a converted penalty, but one could hardly expect Messi to miss the mark when given the opportunity.

I was about to turn in and get back to bed when the teams streamed out on the field after the break. How wrong I was! The turnaround was unexpected and magical. The converted penalty from Mbappe rejuvenated him. A minute later, he had unerringly placed the equaliser once again in the Argentinian goal.

This was, after all, not going to be a cakewalk for Messi's team. Nor for Messi himself. As Mbappe hovered on the verge of a hat trick, he was also running neck to neck with the favourite Messi for the Golden Boot award given to the player who had scored the most goals in the tournament. The teams had drawn level, but Mbappe had pulled ahead in the individual stakes.

And the score remained unchanged for the rest of the pulsating minutes of regular game time, pushing the match into 30 minutes of extra time. This was almost a repetition of the main game. Messi scoring an early controversial goal. And Mbappe to the rescue once again, neutralising it with a stunning penalty placement.

Alas, the game was now back to the most basic and chancy contest-the penalty test. Where France was at last defeated. Where Mbappe could no longer carry the team on his back or hold it together. He scored his goal (Muani was the only other French goal scorer in this match) while his teammates were out-guessed by goalie Martinez at the Argentinian end.

The game was lost, but the French team was not a pushover. And World Cup suspense had never been at this height at any final.

I had intended to make this piece a Paean to the Underdog. But the French were not underdogs. Those were the African nations-Cameroon, Tunisia, Ghana. Giantkillers who thrashed the favourites convincingly. What a treat to see Cameroon beat Brazil or Tunisia overpower the French!

And, best of all, watch Morocco break into the exclusive Europe-South America football club to crash into the semi-finals. This is where the action will lie in future Cup challenges. The African continent is ablaze with football potential and could well steal the trophy away at coming rounds.

Particularly when its players can hone their talents in European league teams, instead of depending on the meagre resources of their home countries for training and support. For us Asians, the Cup continues to be a distant dream. Japan, despite the strategy and commitment with which it defeated the Germans, is not yet there. Nor is South Korea in the reckoning.

The World Cup is a tribute to passing times, to talents who have reached their zenith. Messi, unlike Modric of Croatia or Ronaldo of Portugal, has bowed out with a flourish. But the Cup is also a hint of the future, of the young talent that will grow before our eyes and reappear four years hence.

From this perspective, the French are very well placed. Mbappe's downcast countenance, even while receiving the Golden Boot award at the age of 24 is a good augury for the French-his personal triumph was no compensation for the loss of his team. He is destined to return to challenge Messi's records and set new ones for himself and his country. That's the promise of the 2022 World Cup.