It wasn’t easy, never is. It seems, at times, Argentina had to do it the hard way. Take for example, the first match: Argentina lost to Saudi Arabia by 2-1. Not a good start. Yet, Spain, the year it won the 2010 World Cup, lost 1-0 in its opening match to Switzerland. When Argentina went down to the underdog Saudi Arabia there was immediate panic, yet Argentina, like Spain, came back and showed its true quality.
Fast forward to the 2022 WC quarter-finals against Netherlands in which Argentina allowed the Dutch to come back and tie it 2-2 at the end of the game…one of the tournament’s best matches, yet tense for Argentina as it held on, just barely, in large part thanks to Otamendi as the Dutch unleashed a formidable aerial assault in the box.
And for the final, Argentina allowed France to come back and tie it 2-2. Before that happened, I said to a smart soccer friend of mine, Dige, “I don’t want to say anything but Argentina’s allowed teams to come back before.” And then it happened. For Argentinean fans, it must’ve been agony. It was a 2-0 lead that turned into a potential nightmare, right at the very end when France—by way of Mbappe—tied it up!
Similarly, in the 1986 World Cup final, Maradona and Argentina had a 2-0 lead over West Germany—with Rummenigge, Rudi Voller and Lothar Matthaus—that ended up being a 2-2 tie. Eventually, at the end of the game in dramatic fashion, Maradona’s through pass led to a 3-2 victory.
In 2022, Messi’s magic helped Argentina get back on top and it cemented Messi’s place among the greats, such as Maradona and Pele. For France, it made sense to sub Giroud, who is older and a boost from the bench was likely the idea. But to sub Griezmann, a playmaker that was the engine for France all tournament long, it didn’t make any sense whatsoever. Yet, France did manage to tie it up. Mbappe surged at the end. Would Griezmann have made a difference? Perhaps questions Deschamp must answer for in the near-term, should he remain as coach for the next World Cup. In earning second place, France nearly became a back-to-back champion (like Brazil in 1958 and 1962; Italy in 1934 and 1938). Though, it was Argentina’s tournament and third overall title.
What a phenomenal final and finishing touch for a superb tournament in Qatar.
It seems that FIFA World Cup 2026—Canada-Mexico-United States—will have a great boost, as the first “tri” World Cup in history. Who will take over the tournament? Will Messi, who will be close to 40, find a reason to make one last World Cup run, perhaps off the bench like Roger Milla in 1990? Will Cristiano Ronaldo be around? Might Mo Salah lead Egypt to the tournament? Will the United States and Mexico have home-field advantage to help put each side over the top? With a different format in 2026—a tournament that daringly has increased to 48 teams, the most ever—it will be interesting, and qualifiers are right around the corner!