The 2022 FIFA World Cup Final simultaneously billed as a heavyweight bout between Argentina and France (two of the world’s most iconic and successful soccer-playing nations) and Kylian Mbappé and Lionel Messi (two of the best players to ever set foot on a pitch). And the match certainly lived up to its billing — even if it took more than an hour to find its footing as an all-time classic.
The game’s roller-coaster ride lifted Argentina early, as La Albiceleste dominant in the first half — it won the expected goals (xG) battle by a whopping 1.49 (including one penalty shot) to 0.00, according to StatsBomb.1 After just 36 minutes, Argentina found itself up 2-0 against a French team that couldn’t find a single first-half shot,2 let alone a first-half goal. The situation was so grim for Les Bleus that manager Didier Deschamps decided to make two first-half substitutions — Randal Kolo Muani for Ousmane Dembélé, and Marcus Thuram for Olivier Giroud — in the 41st minute, apparently not trusting that his team could make it to halftime without sustaining further damage.
For Argentina, the opening 45 minutes were magnificent. After Messi converted a penalty in the 23rd minute — something he’s weirdly struggled with in his career — he made an audacious pass from midfield to Julián Álvarez, who quickly sprung a sprinting Alexis Mac Allister, who found Ángel Di María3 arriving at the back left post to make it 2-0 in the 36th minute. France rattled; Argentina was in dream land. It looked like the titanic showdown would be a massive letdown.
The second half was a different story, though it took some time for that story to develop. Kolo Muani and Thuram gave France more flexibility up top, allowing Mbappé to drift into more central areas on the pitch.4 Kolo Muani was able to get open in the 68th minute to register France’s first shot of the match, while Thuram made the second-most progressive passes for France, despite playing just 80 minutes.
If the subs supplied the spark, it was Mbappé who (eventually) lit Lusail Stadium ablaze. After a relatively pedestrian opening 70 minutes, during which he attempted zero shots (!!!), the French maestro took over. He scored a penalty in the 80th minute to put France back within touching distance before scoring one of the greatest goals in World Cup history5 to knot things up at 2-2 just 96 seconds later. In less than two minutes, Argentina had gone from dreaming of the eventual victory parade through Buenos Aires to fighting for their World Cup lives. That’s what happens you get punched in the mouth — twice — by the only player on Earth who breathes the same rare air as Messi.