Argentina wins World Cup 2022
The final being a match with Argentina in it meant there were 45 called fouls and eight called yellow cards issued, and by Papa’s count another 16 fouls and eight yellow cards (at least one for Lionel Messi) were missed by a Polish refereeing team that otherwise did a good job to keep the match within the sport’s newest acceptable boundaries.
The Final, Overall
The South Americans outplayed the French for 80 minutes (we would later find out the French were suffering the effects of a flu-like illness that swept their camp, a throwback to the Brazilian Ronaldo’s fits and hospitalization during the 1998 World Cup in France) and pulled ahead 2-0 with goals by Messi (penalty) and Angel di Maria on a beauty of a fast break. But then, in a two-minute period, Kylian Mbappe, the second-best player in the world right now, and the heir apparent to the Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo era, coolly scored a penalty and a spectacular volleyed-golazo to bring his team back even.
In the extra time period Messi first and Mbappe again, each scored, to lead their teams to the eventual penalty shootout. Mbappe became one of a handful of World Cup final-game hat trick performers and the Golden Boot winner with eight goals, matching Brazil’s Ronaldo and his 8-goal haul in 2002.
The extra time provided both teams with a couple of goal chances but they each muffed them, none more outlandishly than when France’s Kolo Muani, who had missed two gimmie headers set up for him by Mbappe, received a through ball that put him one-on-one with Argentine keeper Emiliano Martinez, only to have the keeper foot-save off the Frenchman’s close-in shot.
As the penalties began it was Mbappe again who scored coolly—his third penalty converted in a pressure-filled World Cup final with confidence and skill—and then Messi scored, with cold skill himself. But Kingsley Coman had his shot saved and Aurelien Tchouameni missed the goal altogether while Paulo Dybala, Leandro Paredes, and Gonzalo Montiel scored theirs in a row to seal the outcome and make Argentina World Champions.
Didier Deschamps had to gamble in the first half of the match as his team were simply being run over, particularly in midfield, by the Argentines’ intensity—an emotional tsunami the French were unable to match save for a few moments—and he took out the shaky Ousmane Dembele, the exhausted, man-marked Antoine Griezmann and the concussed Olivier Giroud, the latter two among the team’s top penalty takers who would have likely taken the shot slots of the fateful French misses. It was ironic that a defensive-minded Deschamps had nevertheless gone with a four-striker starting lineup and when his team fell behind felt he had to substitute for more defensive players, only to have to bring in offensive weapons later to try to catch up. It was obvious, though, that the quality drop from starters to subs was steep.
Similarly, Lionel Scaloni had replaced several offensive players with defenders when he thought he simply needed to manage a lead and then had to make last-minute offensive substitutions to ensure he had enough good penalty-takers as extra time expired. Penalty-scorer, Dybala, a striker, was one of those last-minute subs.
In the end, Argentina’s bookend performances outweighed France’s short-lived and late moments of brilliance in a match the South Americans played as if their lives depended upon the win and the Europeans played as if they had a post-match engagement they would rather be at.
The final of the 2022 World Cup began with Argentina playing in the same home stadium they played five of their seven matches in Qatar, the Lusail Stadium where the opening and closing ceremonies also took place. The Qatari Royals could not have been happier as they own PSG, and clubmates Mbappe and Messi were vying for the trophy—kind of a win-win for the hosts.
France came in with their cup-traditional 4-1-2-3 while Argentina countered with a 4-4-2 to negate Griezmann’s key link-up play and force him to defend more. Fox and Telemundo announcers could not help themselves and by the 00:34 minute of the match, each had mentioned Messi and Argentina twice neglecting to mention who the opposition was in that short period.
At the 1:45 mark, Rodrigo de Paul pushed Adrien Rabiot to the ground from behind and the obvious foul seemed a retaliation for the first foul of the game, committed by Rabiot on de Paul at the 00:45 minute mark. The ref, Pole Szymon Marciniak, gave the Argentine a warning as the Rabiot foul was committed while contesting the ball but the de Paul foul was committed in retaliation and without the ball being in contention. The first yellow of the game should have been awarded right then and there, but it wasn’t.
Interestingly, for the allegedly apolitical FIFA, English referee, Anthony Taylor, was in line to ref the final but “because of his nationality and the political friction between England and Argentina over the Falkland Islands War,” he was disqualified from contention. Was FIFA sure it wasn’t for some other slight that predated that 40-year-old five-week conflict? Oh, well! For any knowledgeable fan, the reason was transparently football-related as any Junta-paid-for-cup-win or Hand-of-God-win historian would tell you, but it was interesting to note how many games where the ref’s objectivity could have been similarly questioned simply did not rise to the level of disqualifying an official in FIFA’s eyes as it did for anything the Argentines might have objected to. Right?!
Over the next several minutes a number of messages were allowed to be sent by Argentina to their opponents as Cristian Romero was allowed to plow into Hugo Lloris—elbow to the chest as the keeper was trying to clear the ball and no yellow was issued despite the obvious and unnecessary aggression. Similarly, Adrien Rabiot was smacked forehead-to-head in the back of the head when going for a header. The unsuspecting Frenchman was hit from behind, in the back of the head, by Argentine Julian Alvarez who could not possibly have reached the ball which was on the other side of the Frenchman. Rabiot remained prone on the pitch for several minutes and given the violence of the contact it was incredible that the often-ballyhooed FIFA concussion protocols did not rule him out of the game then and there. Eventually, the officials would agree his substitution, which occurred later on in the game, was a concussion-protocol sub. Oh, yeah, no yellow card was awarded for that egregious foul either. Three. Are you keeping count too?
When at the 21st minute of the match the ref called a penalty on a Dembele foul on di Maria, Andres Cantor, the Argentine Telemundo announcer said “I’m surprised they did not have VAR check it. It seemed to me the Argentine striker fell of his own accord.” The Mexican commentator (Carlos Hermosillo) accompanying Cantor, though, said, “Well they’ve given penalties for less,” as if that excused a bad call.
What was interesting about the penalty was when the whistle blew, (look it up and cue it up on your video recording) it sounded nearly simultaneous with the action in the box, a supernatural Polish skill no doubt to blow a penalty before the action is complete, then not to use a VAR review to make sure the foul actually took place. In post-game replays, we got to see that there was some contact that would obviate VAR’s overruling, but Marciniak’s quick whistle was an early tell.
During the game’s live coverage, the call was not clear, and it would have been nice for all of us millions of viewers to see the multiple angles of the play, in slow motion, that VAR would have of course reviewed to ensure it was a correct call immediately after the play. But that has been VAR’s biggest failing from its inception, its lack of timely transparency. Thus, a penalty mediates when the run of play cannot.
After the Argentines were up 1-0 and the French were trying to respond, a high-flying ball was contested by both Theo Hernandez and Messi only the diminutive Argentine had no hope of contesting for the high ball against the much taller Frenchman. Yet Messi decided to crash into him to prevent Hernandez’s header. The high-soccer-IQ Messi committed the obvious foul because France was building up steam and because the ball was within a couple of yards of the Argentine half-moon.
The ref, of course, egregiously called the foul in favor of Messi—this decision stopped the French attack in its tracks and added further injury to Argentina’s opponents when the ref decided to stop the game, and the French’s rhythm, to call for medical support as Messi lay holding his face and head. The aerial contact, as replays would show, was clearly at shoulder and chest level. Quite obviously the ref had not seen that there was no contact on Messi above the neck, right? Yet he managed to make the blind call favorable to the hoped-to-be-coronated? Maybe there’s something we’re in the dark about, you know, politically, between Poland and France, no? It sure seemed it could have been that way. That’s four yellows not given Argentina.
With the tenor of the match now set—Argentina playing very intensely and allowed to foul left and right, France in a daze and not sure if they were going to be given a chance to compete—the match reached the 36th minute at which a pretty Argentine counter found di Maria open for the easy score. The match that ensued thus remained one-sided for 80 minutes.
In the 80th minute Mbappe, who alone among the French felt he was due some leeway to play, scored the penalty that woke the French up and in the 81st he scored the golazo that put them back into contention.
The issue, though, was that in the penalty Mbappe scored, Nicolas Otamendi was the last defender when he pulled Randal Kolo Muani down and should have been given a red card. Argentina playing a man down for the 18 minutes of regular and stoppage time eventually played, plus nearly 40 minutes of extra time with its own stoppage added, would have been a different game for nearly an hour, no? Maybe we should just stop counting the cards not awarded against Argentina at four yellows and a red.
Into extra time, in the 108th minute, Messi pushed the ball over the goal line in a melee in front of the goal for the Argentine lead. Ten minutes later, Mbappe coolly converted the penalty which brought the sides even again and soon led to the penalty shootout.
The shootout was anticlimactic as the Argentines had the better shootout keeper and many more experienced penalty takers, as Deschamps had been forced to play his cards early just to stay in the match while Scaloni had the advantage of planning for the spot kicks with many more penalty-taker options at his disposal. The result was thus (and seemingly repeatedly) pre-ordained.
But, just in case anyone harbored any hope that at least this aspect of the match would be officiated any better, those of us hoping were soon disabused of that pipe dream. A case in point: aside from being allowed his classless and unsportsmanlike antics, the Argentine keeper was allowed to grab the ball before Aurelien Tchouameni took his spot kick and throw it clear across the penalty area for the Frenchman to go fetch. It would be interesting to learn just what would have been sufficient to earn a yellow card or more interestingly a double-yellow card for continuing in that vein. What would the shootout have looked like with Argentina’s substitute keeper between the sticks?
The World Cup winddown
The final ended much like the tourney began, with all types of disgraceful, unfair, self-serving, pre-ordained, paid-for-in-advance hooey that nearly marred the ending save for the fact that most could say that Argentina were deserving champions and that fail that France had earned enough brownie points to make it ok if they had won instead. A legitimate champion being the overall most important cup outcome for cup fans.
The ceremony that followed was everything you would hope it would not have been. First, the referees were given gold medals as if FIFA itself needed to be on the podium stealing the players’ thunder—one of the most gratuitous self-congratulatory pranks ever perpetrated by an organizing entity—can’t wait for the same medal ceremony for all of the Olympic judges and referees.
Second, came the actual player trophies, and Argentine Enzo Fernandez, and not the truly deserving Croatian Josko Gvardiol, was chosen as the best young talent. Then Argentine keeper Martinez, and not the truly deserving Croatian keeper Dominick Livakovic, was chosen best keeper of the tournament. Almost as if to mock the award and proceedings Martinez proceeded to use his trophy as a phallic symbol while on stage. Mbappe was given the Golden Boot as the tourney’s top scorer. Messi was correctly given the Golden Ball trophy as the best player in the cup and the Silver Boot as the second-highest scorer. Interestingly, Mbappe ended with eight goals and two assists to Messi’s seven and three. It was a symbolic passing of the torch of sorts.
Third, as has been the case for the better part of the latter half of his career, Messi was given special treatment. Only this time it wasn’t exactly on the pitch but on the platform upon the pitch. He was allowed to indefinitely prance around the stage after getting his Golden Ball trophy and to touch and kiss the World Cup trophy itself before it was officially presented to Argentina—no-nos for any other prior player in history. For neophytes, the tradition is that a player who has not won the World Cup (which you have only officially won after it has been presented to you as champion) is not allowed to handle the trophy. But, you know, it’s Messi, right?!
Fourth, as the time came for the ultimate coronation of Messi, all of the set-up pretenses fell to the ground and the emperor’s clothing was literally placed upon him, sleeves and all, by the Emir of Qatar and FIFA President, Gianni Infantino. Thus, as Messi received the World Cup trophy, he was doing so wearing a Qatari Bisht. And it did not end there because both the Emir and Infantino—who needed to hammer home that it was their cup, and most definitely not ours—felt it their “right and obligation(?!)” to walk Messi down the aisle to where the Argentine team had been patiently waiting to finally do what the trophy event is supposed to be, you know, the part where the champions are supposed to be the focal point of the ceremony, where the team-celebration takes place with their captain holding the trophy aloft surrounded by, you know, players.
Fifth, as we would find out later, the Argentine players continued to show their true class later on in the locker room when part of their celebration was to do a conga line while singing disparaging comments about their World Cup opponents, particularly those who were pre-tournament contenders for the trophy–from Brazil (Neymar singled out) to Croatia (Luka Modric singled out) to France (Mbappe singled out).
On the sporting side of things, Mbappe, it turns out was ready for it all, Messi was a treasure to behold, the refs, media, coaches, super players, and golden generations were a mixed bag of good and bad calls, horrible officiating and decent refereeing, good and horrid news coverage, decent, brilliant, and/or embarrassing coaching, sporadic performances by the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois, Robert Lewandowski, Neymar, and the Spanish kids, ultimately disappointing and/or poor performances by the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, the Belgian, German, Spanish, Brazilian, Dutch, Portuguese, US, Danish, English, and the Uruguayan teams and golden generations, surprising outings by Japan, South Korea, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, and Australia, and outstanding performances from Luka Modric and many of his golden and younger Croatian teammates, and several key players on the USA’s squad, in particular Christian Pulisic.
For the record, congratulations to Lionel, still the best player in the world right now, and at age 35 (!), but for this writer-historian-mentor who was once a club administrator-coach-player: the GOAT debate has not been modified, it still is Pele, Maradona, and Messi, the rank order has not changed.
In the end, Qatar got what it paid for, FIFA got what Qatar paid for, Argentina got what Qatar and FIFA paid for (but Papa feels Messi’s guys also “somewhat earned” their final win–given they scored 3 goals and 4 penalties–within the sad context of what FIFA politics and officiating allow these days both at the club and national team levels), most fans could say they watched a decent and at times surprising and exciting, if not particularly well-hosted or well-played World Cup, and we can stagger toward 2026 in hopes things will get better–if only because we have no option to modify the 2022 result or available means of redress for the manner in which the entire event was handled since 2010.
Photo: World Cup trophy and Argentine flag, Shutterstock ID 2199329291, by fifg.