What a final. After a breathless night at the Lusail Stadium just north of Doha, which saw Argentina defeat France on penalties after a thrilling 3-3 draw, Lionel Messi finally got his hands on the one trophy that has eluded him. Say it with me: Messi has won the World Cup with Argentina.
How lucky are we to have witnessed that?
Messi scored twice during the game and nonchalantly rolled in the opening penalty for Argentina in the shootout. His second, in the 108th minute of extra time, appeared to have won the game for good.
His PSG teammate Kylian Mbappe had other ideas, however, and completed his hat-trick with just two minutes of the game remaining, becoming the only player other than Geoff Hurst to bag one in a final.
It won’t shock you to learn that both players made our shortlist of the best forwards at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, but who came out on top? Here were the five best during the tournament.
Three goals in three games during the group stages are enough to earn Cody Gakpo the fifth spot on our countdown in what was an impressive major tournament debut.
The 23-year-old PSV forward started every game for his country as the Netherlands reached the quarter-finals before losing to the eventual champions Argentina on penalties. His thunderbolt against Ecuador was one of the best goals of the tournament and he looks destined for bigger things than the Eredivisie.
Could a January transfer be on the cards?
A serious contender for best young player at the tournament, Julian Alvarez was pipped at the post by his teammate Enzo Fernandez but surely won’t be too annoyed about that.
Alvarez broke into Lionel Scaloni’s starting line-up in Argentina’s third game of the tournament and final group match against Poland but kept his place from that point on.
Watching the 22-year-old Manchester City forward dovetail so beautifully with Lionel Messi as an unorthodox front two was a joy and his solo goal against Croatia in the semi-final – while slightly fortuitous at the end – was a brilliant demonstration of Alvarez’s talent.
Olivier Giroud was substituted in the 41st minute of the final but don’t let that tarnish an otherwise stellar tournament from the veteran target man.
In Qatar, Giroud scored four times to become France’s all-time leading goalscorer, including that heart-breaking header to send Les Bleus through to the semi-final at England’s expense.
The 36-year-old was a strong focal point and perpetual nuisance against every team he came up against bar Argentina and helped bring the very best out of Kylian Mbappe.
Given that Giroud likely wouldn’t have even been starting in this tournament had Karim Benzema been fit he deserves credit for putting in the performances he did and helping France reach the final.
Somehow Mbappe is still only 23 years old. How?
The France forward scored eight goals and assisted twice during the tournament and his hat-trick in the final clawed France back from the brink – twice – when it looked as though all had been settled.
The most dangerous attacking player in the competition, Mbappe only had quiet games against England and Morocco, while everyone else he came up against was put to the sword. His World Cup record as it stands: 12 goals in 14 appearances, two finals and one trophy. Ridiculous.
The Golden Ball winner and World Cup-winning captain finds himself in first place but really, there wasn’t much to choose between Messi and Mbappe.
Seven goals, three assists and the trophy in his suitcase. If this is Messi’s last appearance at a major tournament for Argentina it was a hell of a way to bow out. Other than the shock defeat to Saudi Arabia in the opening game, it seemed to be written in the stars for La Albiceleste and their talisman.
There were a number of brilliant individual moments from the GOAT along the way, but the pass through the eye of a needle for Nahuel Molina’s opening goal against the Netherlands and the dizzying run to turn Josko Gvardiol, maybe the best defender in the tournament, inside out and set Alvarez up with a tap-in against Croatia, stand out.
This was only even close because most of Messi’s goals came from the penalty spot… and Mbappe had the tournament of a lifetime. Then again, there was only one of them splashed across every front page when all was said and done. What a player. And what a story.