The greatest World Cup final ever

Soccer is a funny sport.

We will suffer through watching hundreds of lousy games in our lives for the privilege of watching this:

Argentina-France, the greatest World Cup final in history.

Fans got what they came for -- Lionel Messi finally won the World Cup — but they also got the wildest final 40 minutes of a soccer match they'll ever see.

France's comeback wasn't the greatest reversal in World Cup history — West Germany came back from 2-0 down after eight minutes to beat Hungary, 3-2, in the final1954 -- but it was surely the most shocking.

I can't remember being more stunned by a turn of events than what happened in the 80th and 81st minutes when Les BleusLes Horribles for the first 70 minutes — tied the score at 2-2 with two Kylian Mbappe goals in just 93 seconds.

Overtime is nothing new to World Cup finals.

Three of the previous four finals went to overtime, producing late winners by Andres Iniesta for Spain in 2010 and Mario Goetze for Germany in 2014 and the most senseless act of violence in World Cup history in 2006 (Zinedine Zidane's head-butt on Marco Materazzi).

And suffering is nothing new to Argentina in World Cup finals.

It won at home in 1978, beating the Netherlands, 3-1, in overtime, but only after it conceded a tying goal in the 82nd minute.

It won at Mexico City's Azteca Stadium, in 1986, defeating West Germany, 3-2, but not before it blew a two-goal lead with a quarter of an hour to play.

In Lusail, everything was taken to a new level. Argentina blew not one but a second lead.

It regained command of the match in overtime, going ahead on Messi's second goal of the game in the 108th minute. But out of nowhere, France was back in the match 10 minutes later.

Mbappe's second goal from the penalty spot in the 118th minute completed the first hat trick in a World Cup final since Geoff Hurst for England in 1966, or as Scotsman Ally McCoist, an analyst on British network ITV's coverage of the match, quipped, the first "in a World Cup final with all three over the line.”

But the overtime drama wasn't over.

For decades to come, French fans will wonder what if — what if Argentine keeper Emiliano Martinez's outstretched foot had not reached the remarkable Randal Kolo Muani's breakaway attempt in the 123rd minute. Kolo Muani, who was playing third division soccer just three years ago, would have gone down as one of the great heroes in World Cup history.

Just like, decades later, Dutch fans still wonder what if Rob Rensenbrink's shot in stoppage time at the end of regulation had gone in instead of hitting the post in the 1978 final in Buenos Aires.

Yes, Argentina suffered, which made its triumph on penalty kicks all the greater.

A few other thoughts ...

Coaching. It is hard to remember opposing coaches having such impacts on a final.

The late Diego Maradona scoffed at Lionel Scaloni's selection as Argentina national team coach, saying he "couldn't even direct traffic," but Scaloni's changes in formation and personnel from game to game were a big part of his team's success. His best move came in the final when he started Angel Di Maria, who was taken down for the opening penalty and scored Argentina's second goal.

France's Didier Deschamps had to field a patchwork lineup, losing four projected starters with injuries before or at the start of the tournament and dealing with a virus that swept the French camp. In the final, he did not wait until halftime to pull Olivier Giroud (who became France's all-time leading scoring during the tournament) and Ousmane Dembele for Marcus Thuram and Kolo Muani. The game changed late in the second half when Deschamps subbed Antoine Griezmann (France's best player throughout the tournament) and Theo Hernandez for Eduardo Camavinga and Kingsley Coman, who took command in midfield, allowing Thuram and Kolo Muani to run wild with Mbappe in attack.

Refereeing. Like Messi, whose triumph was celebrated everywhere but in France, the Polish referee Szymon Marciniak received high marks for his work in the final everywhere, it seemed, but in the nation of the losing team.

In the previous 21 finals, there were six penalty kicks awarded. In Sunday's final, Marciniak awarded three penalty kicks, all justified. To his credit, VAR did not intervene once.

But that did not prevent the French sports daily L'Equipe, which gave Scaloni a grade of "8" (out of 10) and Deschamps a "7," from giving Marciniak a "2."

A final note. I watched the final in Amsterdam, where I have been visiting my son, on BBC1.

During my three weeks in Doha and two weeks here, I certainly read the blistering criticism of the Fox coverage of the World Cup. And I was thinking of it when I watched the pre-game and post-game coverage of the final on BBC1. Before the game, I tweeted how blown away I was by the quality of the studio work and storytelling. All with a simple approach: honor the sport and its actors.

I thought about that a lot — honor the sport and its actors — when I read the controversy about Fox's decision to move the trophy ceremony to FS1 because of NFL commitments.

It's too bad FIFA threw in the 2026 World Cup broadcast rights to Fox because of its decision to move the 2022 finals from the summer to late fall. We might be done with Qatar, but as much as we might want to, we won't be done with Fox's World Cup coverage.

19 comments about "The greatest World Cup final ever".
  1. Ben Myers, December 18, 2022 at 7:13 p.m.

    I was so disgusted by Rob Stone's platitudes, bromides and other stupidty that I watched the second half on Telemundo. The shouts of G-O-O-O-A-L are always fund, but more importantly the commentary followed the play and identified the players. I should have watched more World Cup much earlier on Telemundo, to suppress my vomit reflex.

  2. humble 1 replied, December 19, 2022 at 10:09 a.m.

    Telemundo a must.  For exactly the reason you state Ben.  I watched it all in Spanish, after having enough.  Normally I watch England in English, but this time, could not stand it.  Stone just wrong for soccer at this level, the repetition and meaningless statistics unrelated to the game unfolding serve only to distract from the game at hand.  Talk less to say more sometimes, especially if you bring little in soccer expertise and experience, this is lost of the Fox production team.  Soccer is different, instead of trying to implement your MLB, NBA, NFL, NCAA template on soccer, look abroad, see how the sport is served up, learn, then do.  Thank you.

  3. James Madison, December 18, 2022 at 7:17 p.m.

    I had forgotten Argentina's tendency to suffer in finals, even when it wins.  And three cheers for Telemundo.  I gave up on FOX and switched to Telemundo on the first day of the Cup and have never looked back. 

  4. humble 1 replied, December 19, 2022 at 10:21 a.m.

    failure of VAR in this WC - brazen. We at home can see what transpired on replay - but they choose outcomes not in allignment with actions on the pitch.  Same brazen manner WC was given to Russia then Qatar.  In your face - curruption - administered from the safey and security of - Switzerland.  That's entertainment, nada mas.  Cut above WWE wrestling in USA - stamp of authority from Switzerland and bunch of long acronyms give them credibility, but never-the-less, for me, FIFA tournaments getting closer every year to WWE.  Brazen in your face manipulation of outcomes.  The offside annimations are the most laughable of all. Zero correlation or evidence offered to the viewer to the FRAME when the BOOT TOUCHES the BALL - which is the trigger - VAR officials selecting frames to fit desired outcomes - and sometimes - just brazen disregard for circumstance.  We do not need annmation, we can see on the HD replays what happened.  Still, I was entertained, just like my friends that love WWE.  Being realistic.  Have a nice day.

  5. R2 Dad, December 18, 2022 at 9:45 p.m.

    "To his credit, VAR did not intervene once." Marciniak was rescued in the second half when both teams chose playing instead of play acting. Surprising, given how much flopping there was in the first half and how a 2-0 match could have gone south due to gamesmanship. When Collina chose a UEFA ref for the final, a ref from Poland did not come to mind. Marciniak's card decisions were puzzling, choosing procedural cards over direct fouls against opponents. As far as VAR goes, there were a couple calls I thought instant replay showed were incorrect. The most glaring was the ARG shot Marciniak indicated as a goal kick when the replay showed Coman touched last and ARG should have had a corner in the dying moments of extra time (IIRC). Would love to read the FiFA perforance summary of these Finals officials. We're still not getting the best out of VAR.

  6. Frans Vischer replied, December 19, 2022 at 11:59 a.m.

    Paul, how can you possibly rate the Polish ref with high marks?!! The constant unpunished fouling by the Argentinians! Messi slamming into Giroud with zero attempts at the ball, (which Giroud cleanly headed 20 inches above Messi's head, as Messi drops to the ground writhing in fake pain and eraning a free kick?! the yellow card against France for diving in the Argentine penalty area when it was a clear cut PK, and no VAR review? Otamendi committing a foul in his penalty area resulting in a PK but does not get a yellow card?!
    I admire Argentina's style of play, but this final, (really the entire tournament,) is tainted by Argentina's dirty play, and the refs allowing it. FIFA is disgraceful!
    A thrilling spectacle, but for me, sadly tainted. 

  7. Santiago 1314 replied, December 20, 2022 at 7:24 a.m.

    Frans; while I Generally Complain about the "Dark Arts" Tricks of Argentinian Futbol,(AND THE fact that MLS is Bringing TOO Much of it.!!!)... I must Confess that this Particular Argentina Team played Pretty Clean, certainly No Worse in this regard than any of the Other Teams in the Tournament.

  8. frank schoon replied, December 20, 2022 at 8:11 a.m.

    Santi, Frans and I are dutch and we have a history with Argentina going back to '78 and for Argentina it goes back to WC '66 with Ratin getting kicked off. I agree with your assessment on Argentina but only when using a relative sliding scale. These  guys invented the 'dark arts''s in their blood there...I  also question the refereeing...

  9. Santiago 1314, December 19, 2022 at 12:28 a.m.

    Greatest Ever.????
    Humm ... I'm thinking 1986 was Better, I was at the Game and I don't remember it being a Stinker by one Team for 70 Minutes .. Decided by 3 Referee called Penalty Kicks and a Defensive Collapse that had Messi Trending with Matt Ryan, as Biggest Choker of All Time.
    It was a Great Game.!!!.. Just not the Greatest, because it was Decided in PKs... How can an Inconclusive Result decided by "Non-Soccer" SPOT KICKS, Be THE GREATEST.!?!?!?

  10. frank schoon replied, December 19, 2022 at 7:49 a.m.

    Santi, You're right, I can imagine those who watched for the first time at WC'58 see 17year old become a world star by the name of Pele, along with watching the  dazzling 'Garrincha', along with them the Master handling the ball around midfield  as the  midfield ,general. Then 1970, the Great Brazilian team, or the WC'74 Holland  vs Germany , WC82 Brazil-Italy....NO PENALTIES,NO OVERTIME,JUST GREAT SOCCER WITH NO TEAM CREEPING BACK IN THEIR HOLE WAITNG TO LOOK FOR A CHANCE TO SEE LIGHT

  11. beautiful game replied, December 19, 2022 at 9:11 a.m.

    Always complaints about something

  12. Santiago 1314 replied, December 19, 2022 at 9:42 a.m.

    Come On BG;
    "The Greatest World Cup Final Game in History"
    WAS A TIE.!?!?!? (Doesn't say much for "The Beautiful Game")
    I think it's "The Final" ... Keep Playing....
    Make it Golden Goal,
    Keep Switching Ends every 15 minutes....
    Additional Sub every 30 minutes

  13. humble 1 replied, December 19, 2022 at 10:01 a.m.

    Frank and Santi spot on, calling this 'greatest' is far from the mark, great, yes, no question.  Adding to the pointers Santi and Frank dropped, how about having look at 1950, which is root at the rage and determination that led to the '58, '62 double WC run by Brazil led by Pele, where-in, in 1950, Uruguay defeated Brazil, in Brazil, in the inagural year of the Maracana National Stadium in front of the largest crowd in the history of soccer, nearly 175,000 mostly Braziians.  Please. Perspective.  Respect - for soccer history.  Have a nice day. 

  14. stewart hayes replied, December 19, 2022 at 11:29 a.m.

    Have to agree with the penalty kicks deciding the game vs open play.  A player turns his back and the ball hits his elbow by accident an it's a penalty.  That's a long way from the way the game used to be called, 'intentional hand ball'.  

  15. Chris Wasdyke replied, December 19, 2022 at 11:44 a.m.

    Whether this is the greatest game of all time will surely depend on your perspective.  I did not see any world cups prior to 1998.  This is by far the greatest world cup final I have ever seen.  Is it better than world cups that had only 8 teams competing? I'm not sure, but I don't think anyone can really argue it's the greatest world cup final in the modern era, where the level of athleticism, the depth of the teams in the tournament surely outpace any world cup prior to 1972.(16 teams?)

    Generational perspective needs to be kept in place whenever making greatest comments.  It would  be like arguing anyone was better than Jordan at basketball.....

  16. Santiago 1314 replied, December 20, 2022 at 7:43 a.m.

    Well Stewart, It's a Problem; "Hand Ball" or In this case "Elbow Ball"
    Because it's FOOTball; 
    I advocate for Blowing the Whistle on ALL "Hand, up the Arm, to the Level of the Humerus Bone Connection with the Scapula"
    Everyone knows you can't contact the Ball with these Parts of the Arm, IF You still want to call it FOOTBall.!?!?!?
    Now then, if the Part of the Arm that Contacts the Ball is Also in Contact with "The Body" it is NOT To be Whistled as a "Foul", as it is in the "Frame" of the Body.
    Only thing left to Determine is INTENTIONAL or UN-INTENTIONAL.???
    IF Referee(VAR if Needed) determines UN-INTENTIONAL Handball, then it would be an INDIRECT KICK.
    INTENTIONAL Handball would be DIRECT KICK.
    In this Case of Argentinia-France;
    I would have Called this UN-INTENTIONAL,(INDIRECT FK) As the Argentina Player had Turned his Back and had NO Idea, where the French Player was Aiming the Ball.

  17. Chance Hall, December 20, 2022 at 12:14 p.m.

    Well to say something was off in the refereeing in the WC final is a classic understatement.  Was obvious that it was set up for Argentina and messy to win.  I wonder just how much money passed hands to make it happen.  So disappointing. Disappointed that I waited four years to watch a thrown game.

  18. Santiago 1314 replied, December 21, 2022 at 12:39 p.m.

    A Picture of Messi in a Arabic Shawl, is worth a Billion Bucks !!!!

  19. frank schoon replied, December 21, 2022 at 1:14 p.m.

    You will find that out about 20years later like what Argentina did paying Peru off in '78 which was later admitted to

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