Messi leads Argentina to World Cup glory after beating France on pens

Lionel Messi led Argentina to a stunning World Cup victory, beating defending champions France 4-2 on penalties after an enthralling 3-3 draw over 120 minutes.

In a game that will go down in history as one of the greats, France twice came from behind to send the game to penalties. Although Messi will take the headlines, Kylian Mbappe was the first player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final since Sir Geoff Hurst for England in 1966.

Argentina dominated for the opening 80 minutes and looked to be cruising to their first World Cup title since 1986. Messi fired his side ahead from the penalty spot in the 23rd minute after Ousmane Dembele was judged to have tripped Angel Di Maria – although it looked to be a soft decision.

Argentina players celebrate their World Cup win on penalties as France players stand dejected
Image:
Argentina players celebrate their World Cup win on penalties as France players stand dejected

Juventus winger Di Maria added Argentina’s second after a fine sweeping move – spearheaded by Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister – as France looked to be suffering from the effects of illness in camp during the week.

But Les Bleus came roaring back into the tie when they were handed a lifeline in the 79th minute as the impressive substitute Randal Kolo Muani was tripped by Nicolas Otamendi. Mbappe scored from the spot for his first of the evening, before adding a stunning second just 90 seconds later to take the game to extra-time.

Messi thought he had won it for his side as his rebounded strike was given by goal-line technology in the 108th minute. But, with mere minutes to play, France were awarded another penalty after Gonzalo Montiel was penalised for handball.

Mbappe stepped up for a second time and once again beat Emiliano Martinez, hauling France back into the tie for a second time and sending the game to penalties. The 23-year-old took the first kick of the shootout – netting his third of the evening – before Messi replied.

But Kinsgley Coman and Aurelien Tchouameni both missed their spot kicks for France as Argentina scored each of their remaining three, with Montiel firing home the winning penalty to win the 2022 World Cup.

France's President Emmanuel Macron and Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez confort Kylian Mbappe at the end of the World Cup final
Image:
France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez comfort Kylian Mbappe at the end of the World Cup final

“This squad, these players, play for their people. They play for the Argentina fans,” said an emotional Lionel Scaloni after the game. “That’s what I have always seen. There are no rivalries, everyone pulls in the same direction.

“It is the greatest pride to play for your own country. The players broke their backs, have achieved this title because they understood what they had to do on the pitch. We are very very happy and proud.

“Today we are World Cup champions. Although we went to a penalty shoot-out, we deserved the win because of our great performance. Only some moments they made trouble for us.”

Argentina's Lionel Messi holds the trophy in a Qatari robe after winning the World Cup final
Image:
Argentina’s Lionel Messi holds the trophy in a Qatari robe after winning the World Cup final

When asked about Messi, Scaloni added: “First of all, we need to save him a spot for the next World Cup in 2026 if he wants to keep playing. If he wants to keep playing, he’ll be with us.

“He’s more than entitled to decide if he wants to keep playing for Argentina or not, and what he wants to do with his career.

“It’s such a huge pleasure for us to coach him and his team-mates. Everything that he transmits to his team-mates is something unparallel, that I’ve never seen before. A player, a person who gives so much to his team-mates.”

How Argentina came out on top in an all-time great

France were second best for almost 80 minutes of the game, but will have questioned the awarding of Argentina’s penalty in the 21st minute. Di Maria dinked easily past Dembele and into the area, with the Frenchman barely grazing his foot before the Juventus winger went tumbling to ground. There was no VAR review of the referee’s decision to award the penalty.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Gonzalo Montiel’s decisive penalty in the shootout gives Argentina World Cup final victory against France

There was little doubt who would take the spot kick. It was lined up and expertly dispatched by Messi – rifling the ball past Hugo Lloris – as the blue and white shirts dominating the stands were sent into raptures.

Argentina continued to dominate against a sluggish France, and it was a special goal to make it 2-0. Messi started the move, flicking the ball to Julian Alvarez on the halfway line. He then spotted the run of Brighton’s Mac Allister, who drove forward with plenty of space, before squaring to Di Maria on his left. The winger then made no mistake in slotting home.

Big moments of the game…

  • 23 mins: Messi opens with the first penalty of the game after Dembele foul on Di Maria.
  • 36 mins: Di Maria adds second Argentina goal on the counter-attack after superb Mac Allister pas.
  • 41 mins: Giroud and Dembele taken off, replaced by Thuram and Kolo Muani.
  • 80 mins: Mbappe scores first France goal from the penalty spot after Otamendi foul on Kolo Muani.
  • 82 mins: Mbappe scores his second goal to level for France with a stunning strike.
  • 90+7 mins: Lloris tips Messi’s shot from range over the bar.
  • 105+1 mins: Two Martinez chances blocked by Upamecano.
  • 108 mins: Messi sees Argentina back ahead after scoring from Martinez’s rebound.
  • 117 min: Mbappe sees France level again after Montiel handball.
  • Penalties: Montiel scores winning penalty in the shootout to win the game for Argentina.

That was all Didier Deschamps needed to see from his side. Olivier Giroud and Dembele were both hooked in the 41st minute, replaced by Marcus Thuram and Kolo Muani, and were out far earlier than Argentina for the second half.

Argentina continued to see the better of the chances after the break, with Alvarez and Mac Allister linking up nicely going forward. France finally registered their first effort on goal in the 67th minute with Kolo Muani nodding a corner wide.

But the drama was yet to really get started as France were handed a lifeline with a penalty in the 79th minute. Kolo Munai was fouled by Otamendi, who was the wrong side of his man and brought him down.

Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates scoring his side's opening goal during the World Cup final soccer match between Argentina and France at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Sunday, Dec.18, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Image:
Argentina’s Lionel Messi led his team to World Cup glory in Qatar

As with Argentina’s penalty, there was only one man for the job as Mbappe stepped up. Emiliano Martinez – who had not needed to make a save in the game until that point – did get a hand to it, but the penalty had too much power.

In echoes of the quarter-final against the Netherlands, Argentina were pegged back to 2-2 mere seconds later. It was a stunning finish from Mbappe, playing a quick one-two with Kolo Muani before sending a stunning volley home to complete France’s turnaround.

Kylian Mbappe walks past the World Cup trophy following France's loss
Image:
Kylian Mbappe walks past the World Cup trophy following France’s loss

Messi could have won it for Argentina in the seventh of eight added minutes. He hit a swerving effort goalwards, but a leaping Lloris pushed the ball over the crossbar as the game headed into extra-time.

Argentina went the closest to taking the lead during the added period. At the end of the first half, Lautaro Martinez’s strike was sensationally blocked by Dayot Upamecano before Montiel’s effort from range was nodded over. Lautaro Martinez tried his luck again soon after, but he poked the ball wide.

World Cup final player ratings

Argentina: E. Martinez (8), Molina (6), Romero (8), Otamendi (6), Tagliafico (7), Di Maria (9), De Paul (8), Fernandez (6), Mac Allister (9), Messi (9), Alvarez (7).

Subs: Acuna (6), Montiel (6), Lautaro Martinez (4), Pezzella (6), Dybala (n/a).

France: Lloris (7), Kounde (6), Varane (6), Upamecano (6), Hernandez (5), Griezmann (5), Tchouameni (5), Rabiot (6), Dembele (3), Giroud (3), Mbappe (9).

Subs: Kolo Muani (7), Thuram (7), Camavinga (7), Coman (7), Fofana (6), Konate (n/a).

Man of the match: Kylian Mbappe.

Lautaro Martinez was involved again as Messi fired Argentina back in front in the second half of extra-time. The Inter Milan forward forced a sublime save from Lloris, but Messi was lurking for the rebound. He fired goalwards, with Jules Kounde clearing from deep inside the net. There were a few seconds of nerves as the referee consulted his goal-line technology watch before awarding the goal.

But in a game the epitomised the drama of football, France were awarded a second penalty with four minutes of extra-time to play. Mbappe let fly from the edge of the area, but a jumping Montiel blocked it with an outstretched arm. The France forward lined the spot kick up once again, dispatching past Emiliano Martinez, as the game went to a penalty shootout.

Argentina's Angel Di Maria celebrates scoring his side's second goal during the World Cup final soccer match between Argentina and France at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Image:
Angel Di Maria also scored for Argentina in the final against France

The two stars of the show – Mbappe and Messi – scored the first two penalties. But Martinez denied Coman before Tchouameni sent his effort wide. Paulo Dybala and Leandro Parades had scored theirs in between, before Kolo Muani also found the net for France.

Montiel stepped up to take Argentina’s fourth and ultimately final penalty to see them win their first World Cup title in 36 years, immortalising Messi in football history.

Martinez: I was calm during penalties

Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez says he remained calm during the penalty shootout as he helped his country to World Cup victory.

“It was a game where we suffered,” he said. “Two poor shots and they levelled. They give them another penalty, they scored. Thank God later I did my thing, what I dreamed of.

Martinez
Image:
Emiliano Martinez won the Golden Glove and says he was calm during the shootout

“There could not have been a World Cup that I have dreamed of like this. I was calm during the penalties.”

For Scaloni, it was a nail-biting finish to a turbulent tournament and he could not hold back his tears following the final whistle.

“I cannot believe that we have suffered so much in a perfect game. Unbelievable, but this team responds to everything,” Scaloni added.

“I am proud of the work they did. It is an exciting group. With the blows we received today, with the draws, this makes you emotional. I want to tell people to enjoy, it’s a historic moment for our country.

“We who live for this and who have been through the good and the bad are used to these things… Above all it is an incredible enjoyment. Being at the top as we are now is something unique.”

Deschamps: We came back from the dead | ‘Future will be discussed next year’

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Following his side’s defeat to Argentina in the World Cup final, Didier Deschamps admits France ‘have some regrets’ over their first-half performance

France manager Didier Deschamps praised the stunning comeback from his side, even though they fell short at the final hurdle.

He said: “If you look at the match as a whole and see that in those first minutes, we were playing a very aggressive and dynamic opponent and we just weren’t up to the same level for a number of reasons.

“But nevertheless, we managed to come back from the dead and we made a magnificent comeback. We have some regrets about the first part of the match.

“We have to congratulate Argentina because they showed great quality, great aggression, experience and some very cunning football out there. I don’t want to take anything away from them because they put in a good performance.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Sky Sports chief reporter Kaveh Solhekol discusses the FIFA World Cup final

“I went through a lot of different emotions tonight and there are some regrets because we were so close to winning. There were a number of reasons for that and why we weren’t quite as good as we should’ve been.

“We had a very strong opposition and we were perhaps lacking a little bit of energy. Some of our key players were lacking that energy but we had some younger players who came on and bought some freshness and quality.

“They managed to get us back into the match and keep the dream alive but at the end of the game, we couldn’t achieve that dream.

“The whole of the squad has been facing a tricky situation for a while now and maybe that had a physical and psychological impact.

France's Kylian Mbappe scores his side's opening goal during the World Cup final soccer match between Argentina and France at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Sunday, Dec.18, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Image:
France lacked energy in the opening hour, says Didier Deschamps

“I had no concerns about the players who started the match tonight. They were 100 per cent fit, but we only had four days since the last match so there is some tiredness perhaps, but not an excuse. We just didn’t show the same energy that we showed in previous matches. That’s why for the first hour or so, we weren’t in the match.”

When asked about his future as national team manager, he replied: “Even if we had won the match, I wouldn’t have been able to answer that question tonight.

“I’m very sad for my players and staff, but I have a meeting with the president next year and then you’ll find out.”

Neville: One of the greatest things I’ve seen in my life

Lionel Messi scores Argentina's third goal in the World Cup final against France
Image:
Lionel Messi scored Argentina’s third and his second goal to put them 3-2 ahead in extra-time

Sky Sports’ Gary Neville on ITV:

“Messi should be the centre of attention and it feels right that he has won a World Cup. It feels like destiny was there for him and he’s contributed enormous amounts during this tournament.

“During his whole career, he’s lit up every game he’s played in. If you’ve watched Lionel Messi play live you are truly blessed. The passion, emotion, fight and spirit of Argentina – their nastiness to the very end with Emi Martinez in goal – was absolutely amazing.

“You can just feel the emotion through the stadium. That was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen in my life that game.

“When we were watching the clips of Maradona back in ’86 before the game and I was young watching it in my childhood.

“The kids who were my age back then will be watching this tonight thinking they want to become a footballer and become engrossed and embedded in the culture of football.

“It’s had a massive impact on me that game tonight, but it will have a massive impact on everyone.”

Keane: Both teams were outstanding

Lionel Messi kisses the World Cup trophy after winning the Golden Ball award
Image:
Lionel Messi kisses the World Cup trophy after winning the Golden Ball award

Sky Sports’ Roy Keane on ITV:

“It was an amazing game, enthralling, nerve-wracking. There were real moments of quality, desire and spirit. This is why it’s the greatest game on the planet.

“You can’t begrudge them. This is years and years and years of hard work from being kids and wanting to win the World Cup with Argentina.

“They deserve all the credit in the world. They had to win the game three times, and they had to do the same against the Dutch.

“For all their quality, they’ve shown great spirit and fight.

“If you got a coaching job and you look at your squad and you have a player like Lionel Messi in your group, you’ve got a bit of a chance.

France's Kylian Mbappe scores his side's second goal during the World Cup final soccer match between Argentina and France at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Sunday, Dec.18, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Image:
France’s comeback was also praised by Sky Sports’ Roy Keane

“He’s got to manage him and manage the egos, he had to make changes from the first game. But when Messi is on the pitch and you are doing a bit of coaching, you’ve got a chance of winning some football matches.

“I look at it the other way. France couldn’t get going and we should give Argentina credit for that.

“They’ve lost one game in the last 40-odd. So they were imposing their style and their physicality on them and they couldn’t get going.

“They eventually got going, that’s the sign of a really good team. They showed why they’re champions today.

“I wouldn’t be too critical of France, it took them a while to get going but in football you can only have one winner.

“France take your medicine, both teams were outstanding.”

Player of the match – Kylian Mbappe

France's Kylian Mbappe scores his side's third goal during the World Cup final soccer match between Argentina and France at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Sunday, Dec.18, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Image:
Kylian Mbappe scored a hat-trick for France in the 2022 World Cup final

It’s hard to believe that Mbappe is just 23. He has already featured at two World Cup finals and his hat-trick on Sunday was the first treble in a final in 56 years. Mbappe could not have done more to win it for his country, but does come away with the tournament’s Golden Boot.

Opta stats – Magical Messi

Lionel Messi leads the celebrations after Argentina win the World Cup
Image:
Lionel Messi leads the celebrations after Argentina win the World Cup

  • Argentina’s Lionel Messi became the first player in World Cup history to score in the group stage, round of 16, quarter-final, semi-final and final in a single edition of the tournament.
  • Argentina’s Lionel Messi made his 26th appearance in a World Cup match, becoming the all-time record holder for most games played at the tournament, overtaking Lothar Matthaus (25).
  • Lionel Messi has scored 26 goals in major international tournaments for Argentina (13 World Cup, 13 Copa América), the most of any South American player in history across the two competitions, overtaking Ronaldo (25).
  • In France’s Kylian Mbappe and Argentina’s Lionel Messi, this was the first ever World Cup final to see both teams have a player score at least twice. Mbappe himself was only the second ever hat-trick scorer in a World Cup final, after England’s Geoff Hurst in 1966.

What’s next?

Both the EFL and Scottish Premiership fixture calendars have already resumed, while the Carabao Cup returns to Sky Sports this week with Man Utd vs Burnley on Wednesday evening and Man City vs Liverpool on Thursday.

The Premier League schedule is set to restart on Boxing Day when Brentford host Tottenham, kick-off 12.30pm.

Nev: It was Messi’s destiny | Carra: One of the greatest games of all time

Gary Neville felt it was Lionel Messi’s destiny to win the World Cup in his final game at the tournament, while Jamie Carragher said the final will go down as one of the greatest games of football ever.

Messi scored twice at the Lusail Stadium as Argentina beat France 4-2 on penalties after an exhilarating 3-3 draw following extra-time to claim the only piece of silverware that has eluded him in his trophy-laden career.

Neville described the final as “one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen in my life” and heaped praise on Messi for his talismanic performances for Argentina in Qatar.

“Messi should be the centre of attention and it feels right that he has won a World Cup,” Neville told ITV. “It feels like destiny was there for him and he’s contributed enormous amounts during this tournament.

Lionel Messi kisses the World Cup trophy after Argentina's win on penalties against France
Image:
Lionel Messi kisses the World Cup trophy after Argentina’s win on penalties against France

“During his whole career, he’s lit up every game he’s played in. If you’ve watched Lionel Messi play live you are truly blessed. The passion, emotion, fight and spirit of Argentina – their nastiness to the very end with Emi Martinez in goal – was absolutely amazing.

“You can just feel the emotion through the stadium.”

Lionel Messi’s career honours

  • Seven Ballon d’Or
  • One World Cup
  • One Copa America
  • 10 La Liga titles
  • One Ligue 1
  • One French Super Cup
  • Seven Spanish Cups
  • Eight Spanish Super Cups
  • Four Champions Leagues
  • Three UEFA Super Cups
  • Three Club World Cups

Neville expects Messi and his side to inspire the next generation of potential footballers just as Diego Maradona did for him as a boy when he won the World Cup with Argentina in 1986.

Argentina's Lionel Messi receives the trophy from FIFA President Gianni Infantino, left, and the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, after winning the World Cup final soccer match between Argentina and France at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. Argentina won 4-2 in a penalty shootout after the match ended tied 3-3. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Image:
Argentina’s Lionel Messi receives the trophy from FIFA President Gianni Infantino, left, and the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, after winning the World Cup

“We were watching the clips of Maradona back in ’86 before the game and I was young watching it in my childhood,” Neville added.

“The kids who were my age back then will be watching this tonight thinking they want to become a footballer and become engrossed and embedded in the culture of football.

“It’s had a massive impact on me that game tonight, but it will have a massive impact on everyone.”

‘One of the best games ever’

Jamie Carragher said the game – which saw France twice fight back thanks to a Kylian Mbappe hat-trick, the first in a World Cup final since Geoff Hurst’s for England in 1966 – would go down in history as one of the best ever.

He tweeted: “One of the best games of all time!”

“This game showed why football is the greatest game of all. This one is an all-time classic. So many twists & turns, but this save from Emi Martinez was the biggest turning point.”

The Sky Sports pundit also said Messi is now the best player of all time by his estimation just ahead of Maradona.

Carragher posted his list on Twitter: “1: Messi 2: Maradona 3: Pele 4: Ronaldo 5: Zidane.” But he did not clarify whether it was Cristiano Ronaldo or the Brazilian Ronaldo in fourth.

‘What an ending for Messi’

Argentina's Lionel Messi holds the trophy after winning the World Cup final soccer match between Argentina and France at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Sunday, Dec.18, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Image:
Lionel Messi holds the World Cup aloft for the first time in his career after Argentina’s win on penalties against France

Roy Keane said it was a fitting end to Messi’s international career and praised the forward for dealing with the pressure to perform when it really mattered.

“Do you know what happens to a player sometimes when you’re under so much pressure, obviously it will hit him over the next few weeks and months, but it is more relief that you’ve got over the line,” said Keane.

Lionel Messi lifts the World Cup trophy after Argentina's win
Image:
Lionel Messi lifts the World Cup trophy after Argentina’s win

“The amount of pressure he’s been under for a number of years, to do it in his last game for his country, what an ending for him.”

Keane said Sunday’s final at the Lusail Stadium was a great example of why football “is the greatest game on the planet”.

“It was an amazing game, enthralling, nerve-wracking,” he added. “There were real moments of quality, desire and spirit.

“You can’t begrudge them. This is years and years and years of hard work from being kids and wanting to win the World Cup with Argentina.

“They deserve all the credit in the world. They had to win the game three times, and they had to do the same against the Dutch.

“For all their quality, they’ve shown great spirit and fight.”

Tearful Zabaleta: The perfect story for Messi

Lionel Messi celebrates his second and Argentina's third goal in the World Cup final against France
Image:
Lionel Messi celebrates his second and Argentina’s third goal in the World Cup final against France

Former Argentina defender Pablo Zabaleta was close to tears after the match and said it was “the perfect story for Messi”.

“I’m so emotional. It’s one of those moments,” he said on BBC One.

“I’m just watching Messi. Thank you to everybody for that great game. What a perfect story for Messi.

“He deserves it. 100 per cent. Everyone is just crying.”

Martinez: I did what I dreamed about

Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates with Argentina's goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez at the end of the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between the Netherlands and Argentina, at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. Argentina defeated the Netherlands 4-3 in a penalty shootout after the match ended tied 2-2.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Image:
Emi Martinez was the penalty hero for Argentina

Argentina’s match-winning goalkeeper Emi Martinez says he played the match of his dreams against France as he was once again the hero in the penalty shoot-out.

“It was a game where we suffered,” said Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, who saved one penalty in the shootout on Sunday but had also saved two more spot kicks in their quarter-final against Netherlands.

On a night of high drama and fluctuating fortunes, Argentina squandered a 2-0 lead in regular time before going back in front in extra-time with Messi’s second goal. But then Mbappe completed his hat-trick to level 3-3 in the 118th minute with France’s second penalty that forced the shootout.

France's President Emmanuel Macron and Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez confort Kylian Mbappe at the end of the World Cup final
Image:
Martinez comforts Mbappe after France’s World Cup final failure

“Two c**** shots and they (France) levelled. They give them another penalty, they scored. Thank God later I did my thing, what I dreamed of,” Martinez said.

“There could not have been a World Cup that I have dreamed of like this. I was calm during the penalties.”

Scaloni: We suffered so much in a perfect game

Argentina players celebrate with teammate Lionel Messi who scored his side's opening goal during the World Cup final soccer match between Argentina and France at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Image:
Argentina players celebrate with Lionel Messi who scored their opening goal during the World Cup final against France

For Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni it was a nail-biting finish to a turbulent tournament and he could not hold back his tears following the final whistle.

“I cannot believe that we have suffered so much in a perfect game. Unbelievable, but this team responds to everything,” Scaloni said.

“I am proud of the work they did. It is an exciting group. With the blows we received today, with the draws, this makes you emotional. I want to tell people to enjoy, it’s a historic moment for our country.

“We who live for this and who have been through the good and the bad are used to these things… Above all it is an incredible enjoyment. Being at the top as we are now is something unique.”

It was the third world title for Argentina and the first since the late Maradona won the trophy almost single-handedly in 1986.

How social media reacted to Messi’s World Cup win

How ‘Muchachos’ brought a nation together for Messi’s last World Cup push

If you have watched Argentina at this World Cup, then you will have heard it. In fact, you will have heard it again and again. Their fans sing it constantly. Their players too. Muchachos, ahora nos volvimos a ilusionar. Boys, now we have hope again.

The song has soundtracked their tournament – both in Qatar and in cities across Argentina – and it will reverberate louder than ever when they face reigning champions France at Lusail Stadium in Sunday’s final. Win, and it will be heard on the pitch as well as off it. Most likely inside the dressing room too.

It has been that way after every game since the defeat to Saudi Arabia in their Group C opener, the atmosphere fuelled by a reported total of 40,000 Argentina fans who have travelled to Qatar, dominating the country’s arenas, and offering deafening, colourful support to Lionel Messi and his team-mates.

Their adopted anthem is based on a song called Muchachos, esta noche me emborracho (Boys, tonight I’m getting drunk), originally released in 2003 by La Mosca Tse-Tse, a nine-piece punk and reggae band from Buenos Aires who became popular during the 1990s and decided to record an updated version ahead of the World Cup.

Lionel Messi and his team-mates sing 'Muchachos' after the win over Crotia
Image:
Lionel Messi and his team-mates sing ‘Muchachos’ after the win over Croatia

Argentina fans have celebrated both Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona at the tournament
Image:
Argentina fans have celebrated both Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona at the tournament

A reported total of 40,000 Argentina fans are in Qatar
Image:
A reported total of 40,000 Argentina fans are in Qatar

The players love it, including Messi, who described it as his favourite football chant before the tournament. “He said ‘Muchachos’ and actually sang it,” said Guillermo Novellis, La Mosca’s frontman, in an interview with Billboard magazine.

“I mean, it’s like arriving in Rome and being introduced to the Pope.”

Novellis and his bandmates have been blown away by the anthem’s reception – “it’s something we never imagined,” he added to America TV – but its success lies in its lyrics, written by an Argentinian fan named Fernando Romero and circulated by chance.

“It is actually a song that has been adapted for several years at many stadiums in Argentina,” Gabriel Casazza, an Argentinian football journalist, explains to Sky Sports.

“The first club to start singing it were Racing Club, and it had an immediate impact, so much so that fans from other clubs in Argentina made their own versions.

“Of course, they don’t have the same lyrics, but the one created for the national team is the most emotional of them all, and the World Cup arrived when the song was booming.”

Romero, 30, was among those who first adopted the song at Racing Club, and he penned the national team version after they overcame Brazil in last year’s Copa America final at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, ending a 28-year wait for silverware.

Romero hoped to air the song with a group of friends inside Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires when Argentina faced Bolivia in a subsequent World Cup qualifier, but they were unable to get tickets, instead singing it outside the ground, where a television crew from TyC Sports spotted them and started filming.

With its evocative opening line – “In Argentina I was born, the land of Diego and Lionel, of the children of the Falklands, whom I will never forget” – Romero’s rendition quickly went viral.

Novellis became aware and, after Argentina’s players were heard signing it after beating Italy in the Finalissima at Wembley in June, he asked Romero to collaborate with La Mosca on an official release.

“My dream was for a group of friends to sing it, that alone was a lot,” Romero said in an interview with Telenoche, one of many he has been asked to do in Argentina subsequently.

“I became emotional when I heard some kids signing it in the street after the game against Australia. The same when I hear it in the squares, at parties, and not to mention when the players sing it.”

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Argentina players sing their unofficial World Cup anthem ‘Muchachos’ in the dressing room following their win over Croatia at the World Cup. Credit: @papugomez_official.

His lyrics put Diego Maradona, who inspired Argentina to their last World Cup triumph in 1986 and died in 2020 at the age of 60, side by side with the man now trying to emulate him, describing him as cheering Messi on “from the sky” alongside his father, “Don Diego”, and his mother, “La Tota”.

“I wanted to make a song that leaves aside the constant comparison and competition that existed for so long between Messi and Maradona,” explained Romero. “They are both ours.”

The lyrics also pay tribute to the young men who died during the Falklands War in 1982, as well as the pain of the finals Argentina had lost, both in the World Cup, in 1990 and 2014, and in the Copa America, in 2004, 2007, 2015 and 2016, before last year’s triumph over Brazil, which, according to Romero’s lyrics, made them the “Daddy” over their old rivals again.

Argentina hold up a banner in tribute to Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona
Image:
Argentina hold up a banner in tribute to Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona

Lionel Messi and Julian Alvarez celebrate after going 2-0 up
Image:
Julian Alvarez scored Argentina’s second goal against Croatia

Lionel Messi celebrates during Argentina's World Cup win over the Netherlands
Image:
Lionel Messi celebrates during Argentina’s World Cup win over the Netherlands

“They are components which have created a very strong emotional cocktail for the Argentinian people, and a very significant joining together of supporters during the World Cup,” adds Casazza.

Martin Mazur, another Argentinian football journalist currently following the team in Qatar, agrees. “The lyrics are not typical of a football chant as they weren’t born in the stands but on social media, where they went viral,” he tells Sky Sports.

“Argentina had really catchy songs at the last two World Cups, and this is clearly not an exception, but it is far more political and would probably get an A+ in storytelling for the way it is crafted.”

That is reflected in its popularity – the video for the song on YouTube has received more than seven million views – but the question now is whether this national expression of hope, and of a country seeking to exorcise, once and for all, the ghosts of its past, will finally end with Messi emulating Maradona.

On Sunday in Lusail, we will have our answer.

The lyrics for ‘Muchachos’ in full

In Argentina I was born, the land of Diego and Lionel,

of the children of the Falklands, whom I will never forget.

I can’t explain it to you, because you won’t understand,

the finals we lost, how many years I cried.

But that’s finished because at the Maracana,

the final with the Brazilians, Daddy won again.

Boys, now we have hope again,

I want to win the third one, I want to be world champion.

And Diego, in the sky we can see him, with Don Diego and with La Tota,

supporting Lionel, to be champions again.

Alvarez key to Messi and Argentina’s success

Julian Alvarez started only one of Argentina’s World Cup qualifiers and found himself on the bench for their first two games in Qatar. He could end it by spearheading his country to glory having formed an irresistible partnership with Lionel Messi.

Scoring against Poland in his first World Cup start confirmed Argentina’s progression. His goal against Australia after robbing goalkeeper Mat Ryan epitomised his enthusiasm. Against Croatia in the semi-final, he underlined his importance to his team.

There is an old joke stemming from the fact that Stan Mortensen scored a hat-trick for Blackpool in the 1953 FA Cup final, a game known as ‘The Matthews final’. It was said that when Mortensen died his funeral would be known as ‘The Matthews funeral’.

Alvarez scored two of Argentina’s three goals and he won the penalty for the other. It was Messi who won the man of the match award. Even the great man seemed to accept that his young partner in attack might have been the one to claim this particular prize.

“Every player did well but if I had to choose I would give this award to Julian Alvarez,” said Messi. “The match from Julian was excellent,” added head coach Lionel Scaloni. “Not only because he scored two goals, but because he helped our midfielders.”

As breakout stars go, a Manchester City striker might be too high profile for all that. But the rise has been swift. Speaking to him in the autumn, Alvarez, 22, was reluctant to commit to even making it to the World Cup when asked about his hopes for the winter.

“The squad has not even been announced, not even the list from which the squad will be drawn, but I would hope to be there,” he told Sky Sports. “Obviously, the World Cup is the biggest thing there is in football and it would be wonderful to participate.”

Alvarez has done more than participate. He has made brought balance to the Argentina attack with his running in the final third. Messi’s magic has made the difference but his now celebrated lack of movement demands more of others. Alvarez has delivered that.

Julian Alvarez's defensive work has been an important part of his role for Argentina at the World Cup
Image:
Julian Alvarez’s defensive work has been an important part of his role for Argentina

At River Plate, his coach Marcelo Gallardo spoke of this habit of playing every game as if it were his first. “That is contagious.” At Man City, Pep Guardiola noted that Alvarez is “always positive” and increases the intensity of the team with his defensive work.

Whether it is drifting left or right to shut down attacks, he has been there trying to win back possession in the final third, a one-man press for Argentina. No striker has blocked more passes at the World Cup. He is the man Argentina needed. The man Messi needed.

Julian Alvarez's heatmaps for Argentina during the World Cup knockout stages
Image:
Julian Alvarez’s heatmaps for Argentina during the World Cup knockout stages

That Argentina are a team playing for Messi has become a theme. “I would rather have won it for him than for me,” said goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez following the Copa America success last year. On the pitch, Alvarez embodies that more than anyone else.

There was a moment in the semi-final against Croatia when Messi had engineered enough space for a shot on the angle. He took it and it was saved. Had he gone across the goalkeeper or looked for the pass, Alvarez might have been able to apply the finish.

There were no complaints. Instead, as Messi reacted to the missed opportunity, Alvarez was already away, hunting down the defender trying to bring the ball away and committing the foul that prevented Croatia to counter-attack. It was typical of his attitude.

His goal against Poland showcased his quality but his first against Croatia was more typical. Alvarez almost appeared to be smiling as he bounded through, riding the ricochets. If Messi’s game is one of surgical precision, Alvarez is all endeavour, forcing the errors.

From open play, Alvarez has actually scored twice as many goals as Messi. He had the little genius to thank for setting up his second against Croatia but the relationship is reciprocal. Alvarez won the penalty that Messi scored. Their skillsets complement each other.

Lionel Messi and Julian Alvarez celebrate after going 2-0 up
Image:
Lionel Messi and Julian Alvarez have formed an impressive partnership for Argentina

How thrilling that must be for Alvarez. He was three when Messi made his professional debut, five when Messi first played for Argentina and eight when Messi won Olympic gold for his country. Growing up in Colchin, watching him on television was a family event.

“We all watched football together as a family, a lot of games, and Barcelona was the one that captured my family’s imagination, especially Lionel Messi.

“It is great, of course, and very satisfying to have that dream come true of playing at the side of Lionel Messi, one of the greatest footballers in the history of the game. It is a great source of pride for me, I have to say.

“It is hard to copy him, of course. He is a unique talent. But like everyone around him, I watch every little thing that he does, every piece of skill. I try to learn and take the best from it that I can but he is a quite surprising player, not just on the pitch but off it as well.”

Alvarez might be trying to learn from him. But the truth is that it is the differences between them that have been crucial to Argentina finding the right blend. Messi’s mind and feet are without equal but Alvarez has been his legs in Qatar. Together, they can make history.