World Cup 2022 - M and M !
Lionel Messi, the greatest player ever
Much after the heat and dust and the excitement of the most riveting final in the history of World Cup football becomes a memory, the two 'Ms' would be remembered though they were in the opposing teams – Messi of winner Argentina and Mbappe of France.
The two words which are bound to echo in the ears of fans of the Les Bleus of France would be "Nous Reviendrous," (we will be back), by an emotional Kylian Mbappe. This truly sums up the spirit of the player who despite scoring a hattrick against Argentina led by his club team mate Lionel Messi was indeed heartbroken, with French President Macron too unable to console him.
The match also settled once for all the debate as to who should be GOAT (Greatest Of All Time). That went to 35-year-old Messi with the football fraternity almost unanimous that he was the greatest player ever.
Former English international Jamie Carragher put Messi on top followed by Maradona (2), Pele (3) Ronaldo (4) and Zinedane Zidane (5). As Messi went up to the podium to receive the Cup from the Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Ali Thani, he was given the traditional Arab robe called Bisht which is considered an honour.
It is indeed ironic that the French club Paris Saint-Germain for which Messi and Mbappe play has as its Chairman and CEO Nasser Al-Khelaïfi from Qatar. The 49-year-old Qatari is also chairman of beIN Media Group, QSI and DIGITURK. A former professional tennis player, Al-Khelaïfi is the president of the Qatar Squash and Badminton Federation.
In France Nasser sits on the board of the French Professional Football League and on a European level is a member of UEFA's Executive Committee and is the ECA Chairman (European Club Association).
Though rated as one of the best finals ever played in the 92-year history of FIFA World Cup, and probably the best advertisement for the world's most popular sport, it was the last ten minutes that almost completely turned the match on its head.
The two quick goals within a space of two minutes by Les Bleus led by Mbappe with barely ten minutes left saw the Albiceleste gasping who till then appeared to have stitched up the match.
What added to the woes of the Argentinians was the goal by Messi in the 30 minutes extra time was quickly snuffed out by Mbappe as the Frenchman converted a penalty for his hattrick.
It was indeed sad that the final had to be decided by a penalty shoot out which is often described as a lottery with the French side misfiring two by Kingsley Coman who plays for Bayern Munich and Aurellian Tchouameni of Real Madrid.
However, it is interesting to recall what the Spanish coach Luis Enrique said about penalties ahead of their clash against Morocco in the Round of 16. Enrique said he had set each of his players the "homework" of practising 1,000 penalties before arriving in Qatar, saying he is convinced they are not a lottery.
"Over a year ago, in one of the Spain camps, I told them they had to get here with at least 1,000 penalties taken," he said. "I imagine that they have done their homework. If you wait until getting here to practise penalties... (it won't be enough). It's a moment of maximum tension, a time to show your nerve, and that you can shoot the penalty in the way you have decided, if you have trained it a thousand times."
As it turned out, Spain was held to a goalless draw for 120 minutes by Morocco and ironically in the penalty shootout, none of the Spanish players could score. It is interesting to note that 23 of the Argentina footballers play in the European and English league while 22 members of the French squad play outside the French Ligue One and this exposure put the two sides at par for they play almost the same brand of football.
However, on a particular day a team can be off colour and that appeared to be the case with France who conceded two early goals and were on the defensive most of the time.
It was indeed surprising to see that the Argentina left winger Angel De Maria was given ample space and that resulted in the Albiceleste getting both their goals.
But, the game also saw the Argentinian 'M' a.k.a Messi overshadowing his club mate Mbappe who appeared to be out of the picture for most of the game until the burst in the last ten minutes and in the dying minutes of extra time which took the game into penalty shoot out.
The French did appear to be missing their star Karim Mostafa Benzema who got the Ballon De' Or this year as he led the Spanish side Real Madrid to victories in the La Liga and UEFA Champions League. The other players who were missed included Paul Pogba who plays for Juventus and scored when France lifted the Cup in Moscow in 2018 and another member of that squad N'golo Kante of Chelsea who too played a key role in the 2018 World Cup in Moscow as all these players were ruled out due to injuries.
For the Argentinian side it has taken 36 years to lift the coveted trophy having last won it in 1986 in Mexico City led by another M aka Maradona and this win was indeed a fitting tribute to him.
For France who were on the verge of history as defending champions, this made it the first time since the 2002 final in which a team had consecutive appearances at the finals, and the first since 1998 where the title holders qualified for the subsequent final – both were achieved by Brazil.
France has claimed two World Cups, in 1998 and 2018. The French also reached the 2006 final, but fell to Italy on penalties. Under the management of Didier Deschamps, who won the 1998 tournament as a player, the French failed to conquer the 2014 World Cup, UEFA Euros 2016 and 2020, but successfully clinched the 2018 World Cup title.
As world champions, France were one of the favourites to retain the cup.
Ironically, both finalists lost in their group matches with Argentina starting rather disastrously losing 1-2 to Saudi Arabia while France lost to Tunisia 1-2.
What spurred the Saudi Arabian side to get the better of Argentina in the opening match of the tournament was what their 54 year old French coach Herve Jean-Marie Roger Renard told them at half time and which became headlines.
Trailing the Argentinians 0-1 after a 10th minute penalty converted by Messi, he came down on the team "What are we doing here. Is this our pressing? Pressing does not mean you will go high… (There is) Messi, at the middle of the pitch. He has the ball and you stay in front of the defence. Don't you know you have to mark him in the middle?
Take your phone and you can take a picture with him if you want! If you stay stationary, he will follow. We warned you and now you see what you have done," he said. "Don't you feel we have a chance to come back? Come on guys, come on, this is a World Cup! Give everything! When you are at the edge of the box, you are stationary…..be mobile! Concentrate and be attentive," Renard boomed and this appeared to have been the tonic that the doctor ordered for Saudi Arabia ended up winning 2-1 after two quick goals early in the second half.
The French who wanted to emulate the achievement of Italy in 1934 and 1938 and Brazil in 1958 and 1962 as the third country to successfully defend the World Cup title virtually saw their dreams go up in smoke in the penalty shoot out.
The French manager Didier Deschamps too was riding on the cusp of covering himself with glory seeking to become the second manager to win two FIFA World Cup titles, after Vittorio Pozzo with Italy in 1934 and 1938. Having won the 1998 tournament as a player, Deschamps was seeking to become the third person to win three FIFA World Cup titles, after Brazilian legends Pelé (all as a player) and Mário Zagallo (two as a player, one as a manager).
For Argentina, the victory on the football field means a lot as one Argentinian Henrique Ferenz was quoted by the media as saying "it's incredible. I'm out of words. This means so much to us." "It reminds me a lot of 1986," he said, referring to Argentina's last World Cup victory under football legend Diego Maradona, and then added: "It's also such a huge relief, given the situation we are in."
He truly sums up the general feeling that has been growing in a notoriously football-enthusiastic but also crisis-torn country over the past weeks: As La Albiceleste advanced through the Qatar World Cup, reaching quarter and semi finals and ultimately the final against former world champion France, people increasingly grasped new hope and a sense of euphoria — a state that many in the country, which is marked by seemingly permanent economic crises and galloping currency devaluation, had not known for a long time.
Looking at the history of this South American nation, it was once, around 100 years ago, one of the richest countries in the world. However, now it is faced with various economic crashes in past decades, but the recent years have been particularly bitter.
Inflation reached nearly 100 percent this year, rapidly wiping out savings and many dreams, especially among the middle class. Those who can invest their assets in euros or dollars, which can be exchanged for Argentine pesos on the semi-legal black market at much better conditions than the official exchange rate.
The Left-wing government of President Alberto Fernández has been trying to stabilise both the currency and the economy by restricting or taxing exports of the country's main commodities — agricultural goods such as soy, meat and wheat — but critics say those protectionist measures have only aggravated Argentina's economic misery.
On the streets of Buenos Aires and elsewhere, the number of homeless people and those desperately trying to make a living by searching trash bins for recyclable products has drastically increased in recent years. The World Cup victory appears to have, at least for a moment, eradicated the general feeling of frustration and failure that has long gripped the country.
"We are champions! The whole world is looking at us today! I cannot describe to you the emotion that I'm feeling," shouted Angelica López from Buenos Aires, as she was asked what the victory meant for Argentina, only to disappear seconds later in a crowd dancing wildly to drum rolls.
Although it's unlikely that the victory as such will make a tangible impact on the economic situation of the country and its people, of which nearly 40 percent live below the poverty line, the rediscovered hope and pride come at a moment where a new political and economic perspective for Argentina could be growing.
Some in Buenos Aires recalled that the last time that Argentina won the World Cup, in 1986, was just three years after the fall of the military dictatorship — and it was a defining moment for the young democracy. The hope is that this year's victory will provide a similar lift for a country in dire need of one.
"Perhaps, with a bit of luck, today's victory could be a precursor for a political and economic renovation that our country needs so badly," said Guillermo Alberto, a football fan partying on the streets of Recoleta, Buenos Aires.