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Crowning achievement

Argentina’s Lionel Messi adds to legacy with long-awaited World Cup


Olivier Groud of France before the final match between Argentina and France in Qatar Getty Images/Photo by Michael Regan-FIFA/FIFA

Crowning achievement

Much of the media coverage leading up to Sunday’s World Cup final between Argentina and France understandably focused on the former country’s Lionel Messi and the latter’s Kylian Mbappe: Not only were they the top goal scorers at this year’s tournament, they were also facing off for international soccer’s biggest prize.

Seemingly lost in the discussion, however, was the instrumental role that Olivier Giroud, a devout Christian, played in enabling France to reach its second straight World Cup final.

Argentina captured the cup on Sunday in Qatar, winning a penalty-kick shootout 4-2 after battling France to a 3-3 draw in regulation and overtime. Gonzalo Montiel converted the match-winner for La Albiceleste—Spanish for “sky blue and white,” the colors of the South American country’s vertically striped uniforms—making Argentina the first non-European team to win the World Cup since Brazil in 2002.

No team outside Europe or South America has ever landed soccer’s most coveted trophy. Morocco nearly became the first African team to do it at this year’s tournament, reaching the semifinals before falling to France and ultimately finishing fourth.

In winning its third cup, Argentina thwarted France’s bid to become the first repeat champion since Brazil accomplished the feat in 1958 and 1962. Argentina also won soccer’s top international tournament in 1978 and 1986 and has reached the final three times since then, losing to Germany in 1990 and 2014 before emerging victorious on Sunday.

Messi and Mbappe—who have been teammates for Paris Saint-Germain, one of France’s top professional clubs, since 2021—both factored heavily in Sunday’s final: Messi scored two of Argentina’s three goals prior to the shootout. Mbappe, meanwhile, converted all three of France’s, making him the first player to record a hat trick in a World Cup final.

He did it in thrilling fashion to boot: Mbappe scored his first two goals in less than two minutes late in the second half to erase Argentina’s early 2-0 lead and force overtime. Messi netted his second goal in the 108th minute, putting Argentina back in front 3-2. Mbappe, however, deposited the equalizer in the back of the net on a penalty kick in the 117th minute, setting the stage for the shootout.

Each player also converted one penalty kick in the shootout before Argentine goalkeeper Emi Martinez knocked away a shot by France’s Kingsley Coman and forced Les Bleus’ Aurelien Tchoumeni to send his shot wide, setting the stage for Montiel’s clincher.

The World Cup is the crowning achievement for Messi, who also received the Golden Ball, the award given to the tournament’s best player, and the Silver Boot, given to the tournament’s No. 2 goal scorer. Messi’s seven goals were second only to the eight scored by Mbappe, who was accordingly honored with the tournament’s Golden Boot.

Soccer followers widely hail Messi as one of the sport’s all-time greats, if not its greatest player. The forward is a seven-time winner of the Ballon d’Or, given annually to FIFA’s top player—in fact, the 35-year-old won the award as recently as last year. He scored 474 goals in 17 seasons with FC Barcelona, leading Barca to 10 titles in La Liga, Spain’s top professional league, as well as four Union of European Football Association crowns. No South American male has scored more goals while representing his country than Messi has—he’s just two shy of 100.

Still, Argentinian fans long held his failure to bring home the World Cup against him—until he finally did so on Sunday, that is.

Mbappe, meanwhile, is just getting started: At just 23, he became the youngest player ever to score five goals in a World Cup tournament since Pelé did it for Brazil during the 1958 tournament. Pelé was just 17 at the time.

Mbappe also set a World Cup record in Sunday’s final: No player has scored more goals in World Cup finals than he has. In addition to his hat trick on Sunday, Mbappe scored in France’s 2018 triumph over Croatia in Russia. Mbappe now has 12 goals in 14 World Cup matches, making him the youngest player to reach double digits in goals on soccer’s biggest stage.

As impressive as the young Frenchman’s accomplishments are, they currently pale compared to Giroud, who won the World Cup’s Bronze Boot for finishing with the third-most goals at the tournament. A 36-year-old striker for AC Milan in Italy’s Serie A, Giroud became France’s all-time leading scorer at the World Cup—he has 52 while representing his country. Giroud scored twice in Les Bleus’ 4-1 victory over Australia in group play, added another goal against Poland in the round of 16 and netted the game-winner against England in France’s 2-1 quarterfinal victory.

An outspoken Christian, Giroud has “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”—a reference to Psalm 23—tattooed in Latin on his right arm. He guest-edited Jesus, a magazine for French Christians, in 2019 and raised money to support persecuted Christians while with Chelsea of the English Premier League.

“I used to pray on the pitch before every game and after every goal, with my eyes and index finger pointing to heaven,” Giroud told the website Evangelical Focus Europe. “I simply want to give glory to Christ.”

Other Christians who figured prominently in their teams’ success at the World Cup include Memphis Depay and Cody Gapko of The Netherlands. Gapko finished the tournament with three goals. Depay scored in The Netherlands’ 3-1 elimination of the United States in the round of 16.

The United States, Mexico and Canada will host the World Cup in 2026.


Ray Hacke

Ray is a sports correspondent for WORLD Magazine who has covered sports professionally for three decades. He is also a licensed attorney who lives in Keizer, Ore., with his wife Pauline and daughter Ava.

@RayHacke43

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