It was an iconic moment that will live forever in World Cup history and the images of the Middle East.
The great Lionel Messi was called to the stage to lift the trophy that he so coveted during his glittering and incomparable career.
At the other end of the podium were his Argentina teammates, ready to party after defeating France on penalties in one of the greatest finals ever seen.
At the end, Messi shook hands with Fifa president Gianni Infantino and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim, who gave the 35-year-old two playful haircuts.
Messi was then decked out in a black bisht – a traditional male robe popular in the Arab world – before performing a jig and lifting the famous trophy.
Not only was it a moment for Messi, but also for Qatar – on its national day, marking the end of the first World Cup held in a Muslim country.
It may have been a great honor for Messi to be dressed in Arab clothing, but others saw it as disrespectful and overshadowing the day ahead.
“It’s a formal dress and it’s worn for celebrations,” Hassan Al Thawadi, secretary-general of the Qatar tournament’s organizing committee, told BBC Sport. “This was a celebration of Messi.
“The World Cup was an opportunity to show the world our Arab and Muslim culture. It wasn’t about Qatar, it was a regional celebration.
“People from different walks of life could come, experience what was happening here and realize that we may not agree on everything, but we can still celebrate together.”
Sheikh Tamim said on Twitter: “We fulfilled our promise to organize an extraordinary championship of Arab countries.
“It provided an opportunity for the peoples of the world to learn about the richness of our culture and the originality of our values.”
The dreams of ‘Muchachos’ are coming true
It almost didn’t happen to Argentina.
The brilliant Kylian Mbappe wanted to have his say with a hat-trick – the first in a World Cup final since England’s Sir Geoff Hurst in 1966 – but the Argentines always believed the late Diego Maradona was watching over them.
In the end, the hopes and dreams of Messi and all of Argentina turned into reality at the shaken Lusail Stadium.
The song that blew through Qatar and all the way home in Argentina was repeated again.
The one where Don Diego looks down from heaven, “cheer Lionel, and let us be champions again, and let us be champions again”.
‘Muchachos’ is a cover of a song by Argentine band La Tosca, with a line that translates to: “Guys, we’ve got hope again.”
More than three decades of pain were banished as Lionel Scaloni the men, led by the colorful Messi, celebrated their third World Cup triumph, after 1978 and 1986, in their sixth final.
‘Where is Messi?’ There is your answer
The tournament started shockingly for Argentina.
“Where is Messi? Where is Messi?” Saudi Arabia fans wondered about their sides an incredible 2-1 win in the first game in the group.
These jokes echoed through Doha in the following days and went viral on social media.
But when it comes to the showpiece on Sunday, the question was clearly answered when Messi confirmed his footballing greatness, standing on the podium with the captain’s armband on his bicep and the golden award raised above his head.
As soon as we landed in the Qatari capital on November 16, it felt like Messi’s World Cup – the sense that anticipation and excitement could lead the little magician to the one piece of silverware missing from his cupboard.
Argentina jerseys with his famous number 10 were everywhere – in the streets, markets and stadiums, worn by men, women and children alike.
A few of Maradona’s were scattered around, but nowhere near those of the main man on today’s global stage.
That song ‘Muchachos’ echoed through the metro and buses. There was no escaping it, not even in sleep.
And it was no different on the day of the final.
Argentine flags hung from rooftops and balconies and in shop windows in local neighborhoods of Doha. There was only one team they wanted to see take home the trophy.
On the way to Lusail, about 11 miles north of Doha, you were carried by a wave of thousands of Argentina fans, singing their songs and chanting “Messi, Messi”.
Some of the raucous fans from the South American country were in the stadium long before kick-off, banging drums, jumping up and down and waving blue and white scarves over their heads.
As images of the players exiting the bus flashed on the big screen, a deafening roar rang out for star Messi, and he received the same round of applause when the team sheet was read out.
It had to be the man of the moment Messi who scored the first goal from the penalty spot, coolly sending Hugo Lloris the wrong way.
Teammates piled on him as he skated off to celebrate, sharing a warm embrace with Rodrigo de Paulo.
There was added joy when Angel di Maria swept the home side’s second to produce a stunning team move, with ‘Muchachos’ ringing out once more as the fans bounced up and down in the stands.
But Mbappe had other ideas.
Tears of joy
French superstar Mbappe scored twice – just 97 seconds apart – to send the game into extra time.
Messi thought he had won it, charging in from close range, but Mbappe showed his credentials for a day taking part in the ‘greatest debate of all time’.
Argentina held their nerve in the shootout and sparked wild celebrations, substitutions swarming the pitch and a group of players surrounding Messi in a circle at half-field.
Then came the tears, coach Scaloni, penalty shootout hero Gonzalo Montiel – all accompanied by man of the match and player of the tournament Messi, who waved to his family in the stands.
Argentina’s players celebrated with their families on the pitch, posing for photos with the trophy in front of one of the goals – fans stayed long after the final whistle.
After carrying their burden, Argentina’s players paid their last respects to Messi by hoisting him on their shoulders and carrying him around the pitch with the trophy aloft.
The show is over. The baton passed from Maradona to Messi. The size is confirmed. The discussion was over.
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