A fairytale ending
Football, bloody hell! Like the chapters of a book, slowly unfolding towards the eventual climax, this edition of the World Cup has been nothing short of breathtaking. From gorgeous goals to late drama, with a few major upsets sprinkled throughout, this year's World Cup has probably been the most spectacular iteration of football's greatest tournament.
As we have turned through the chapters of this World Cup, we have found countless moments of greatness that the current generation will retell over the years. However, no other match–over the almost one-month long tournament—could hold a candle to the finals match between Argentina and France.
That isn't to say that every other match on the path to the finale was lacking in any way. Rather, it's a commentary on how absolutely insane the final was. The goals, the stories unfolding with each kick of the ball, the fireworks, the fans, Peter Drury's iconic commentary; all of it combined together is what made the finals a spectacle for the ages.
As Lionel Messi finally lifted the trophy over his head, many of us turned off our TVs, almost burned out by the euphoria we experienced in the short span of just three hours. But as most of the world finds a way in their hearts to rejoice Messi finally capturing World Cup gold, I think it's important to understand all of the little stories that led us here in the first place.
See, when we read the book of this World Cup, we forget all of the prequels and spin-offs that have been stacking up in the shelves. We might just see Messi lift the World Cup trophy and think that this was destined, but there's so much more behind Argentina's iconic victory.
While each and every player, on both teams, had their own journey to the finals, I want to highlight just three that will forever have their names written in the history books: Ángel Di María, Kylian Mbappé and of course, Lionel Messi.
July 14, 2014. This was the day of the 2014 World Cup final. As Argentina prepared to battle Germany, one Ángel Di María was waiting to learn what fate—or in this case Argentine manager Alejandro Javier Sabella—would have in store for him. Di Maria had torn his thigh muscle during the quarter finals and was unsure of whether he would be able to play in the final.
In his article for The Players' Tribune (2018), Di Maria wrote how, with the use of painkillers, he could run without feeling any pain. While he knew that Sabella would oblige if he asked the manager to put him in the starting line up, Di Maria would ask Sabella to go with his gut.
"If it's me, it's me. If it's another, then it's another. I just want to win the World Cup. If you call on me, I will play until I break," Di Maria would say to the manager, before breaking into tears.
I would recommend everyone to go and read the entire article on The Players' Tribune's site. Unfortunately for Di Maria, he was not able to play a single second of the final. The Argentine winger would go on to write that this day was the most difficult day of his life.
So, when Di Maria promptly broke into tears after scoring Argentina's second goal in the final, it truly encapsulated the eight years he had to wait to get here. When Di Maria would eventually be benched, and France would go on to score two goals back to back, in under two minutes, it was heartbreaking to see how the player began to cry once again. For almost an hour longer, Di Maria would sit there, clutching at his heart, fearing possibly for the worst as he no longer had any control over the game. To see the joy on his face, as Argentina finally lifted the cup, was like nothing else.
The final was billed as a battle of Lionel Messi vs Kylian Mbappé. Experience meets youth, the GOAT going up against someone who will someday try and dethrone him. And my oh my, did they both put on a show.
Messi's brace, followed immediately by Mbappé's hattrick. It kept us watching at the edge of our seats. While the latter was able to steal Messi's Golden Boot, he could not force the passing-of-the-torch moment like he had hoped to do.
However, if we look back at the 2014 World Cup and the one of this year, we can draw even more parallels between the two. In the former, a younger Messi carried his team to the final, only to be beaten because his teammates were not able to push the team over the final hurdle. This Sunday, a 23-year-old Mbappé experienced a similar situation.
It was only eight years after that final, that Messi would finally find himself in an Argentine team that could take his greatness to the next level. Mbappé on the other hand has already claimed the World Cup once, but sadly, this time, his teammates would fall short in being able to do the same.
See, stories repeat themselves over the years. Legends come and go, the game itself changes. But really, while the comparisons we can draw between players, matches and World Cups might sometimes align, it is the moments that stay unique.
As someone who I was watching the match with so eloquently put it, "You can't script that."
And that is but the beauty of real life. It's the stories we see unfolding on and off the pitch, sometimes over decades, that truly make events like the World Cup so memorable.
In the decades that follow, the story of this World Cup final will become a story told over and over again. That is probably the most glorious part of it.
Aaqib Hasib is a sub-editor at The Daily Star. Reach him at [email protected].