Messi, Argentina Finally Crowned Champions of the World

The story of the Qatar World Cup Final was perfectly captured in Andrés Cantor’s voice.

As Argentinian Gonzalo Montiel’s penalty strike went left and French keeper Hugo Lloris helplessly dove right, Cantor, longtime Telemundo soccer commentator, rejoiced at the end of the finally fruitful rollercoaster ride that Argentina fans had patiently been on for the past 36 years.

The moment was a kind of poetic justice that Argentinians, starting with Lionel Messi himself, just plainly deserved. A kind that the Argentinian-born Cantor deserved to be the voice of. And a kind that listeners deserved to hear Cantor elevate. 

To capture a special moment with a spontaneous call is a commentator’s most difficult task. One so difficult that it’s often best to not even try. To just let the moment speak for itself is good judgment for most. But those who do dare to, and excel at it, find themselves etched in history alongside the moment itself. It’s where Cantor’s call found itself practically as soon as it happened.

“No podía ser de otra manera sino sin sufrir.”

“It couldn’t have happened without suffering” might be the best line from Cantor’s call. It’s at least my personal favorite.

It was the encapsulation of the prevailing emotion amongst a fanbase that entered the 2022 Final 90 minutes from seeing arguably the greatest soccer player ever once again fail to capture the most important title in international soccer. Or, if you view it the other way, a national team failing once again to properly support a generational player.

Cantor was not lying. There had been plenty of suffering. An extra-time, one-goal loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup where Argentinian strikers failed to capitalize on multiple golden opportunities. A loss in penalty kicks in the 2016 Copa America Final, the Americas’ most prestigious tournament, in which Messi sailed a penalty attempt into the stands. 

Messi and Argentina had captured the 2021 Copa America title, giving him his first international trophy 16 years into his career and ending a 28-year trophy drought for Argentina. But, this still felt like a disappointing output for such a golden generation. The crowning moment was still missing.

The start of the final was all Argentina.

In the 23rd minute, the South American side was awarded a penalty for a chance to score first. Messi stepped up to the penalty spot and calmly converted. 13 minutes later, Angel DiMaria broke free down the left side and finished surgically. 

DiMaria’s ensuing celebration and emotions became the perfect representation of how Argentina fans felt as the match went on. After his goal, it was pure euphoria as they finally appeared destined for a world championship. DiMaria was subbed off in the 64th minute in what felt like a hero’s exit for a veteran player that had suffered through the losses to earn this moment. Injury had sidelined DiMaria for the 2014 World Cup Final and his ability to capitalize on scoring opportunities could have made all of the difference.

The first 80 minutes into the match against France felt like Argentina’s reward for staying true through all of the disappointments. Argentina was playing practically flawless soccer and France looked overmatched and without answers. 

That all changed in the 80th minute when France was awarded a penalty. French superstar Kylian Mbappe left no doubt from the penalty spot, and suddenly Argentina’s crowning ceremony was delayed. At minimum, the next 10 minutes were going to be a lot more stressful.

But before Argentina could even process the change in where the game stood, Mbappe’s magic struck again with an equalizing strike in the 81st minute. In just two minutes, Mbappe had erased 79 minutes of Argentinian domination. The trophy was as distant as ever.

The game extended into extra time and so began a brand-new 30-minute battle. The extra period was as defining as a moment can be for a team. 30 minutes for Argentina to do more of what they had done so well for nearly 80 minutes or to produce another one of the collapses they had become far too familiar with.

Throughout the extra time period, Messi was masterful, leaving no doubt about how he intended the game to end. In the 108th minute, Argentina finally broke through as an initial offensive effort left a rebound for Messi to just sneak through. 

It seemed that Mbappe’s heroic burst would ultimately be harmless. If anything, it had earned Messi another opportunity to display his magnificence. 

Then it happened again: A penalty was awarded to France. Mbappe stepped up again and tied the game. The final would have to be decided in penalty kicks, but not before Argentinian goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez made a game-winning save as France’s counterattack so dangerously threatened Argentina that French players began to run onto the pitch from the bench, believing they were about to become world champions. 

After holding two leads that seemed decisive, Argentina found themselves almost relieved to be in penalty kicks and not the World Cup’s runners-up.

Messi began the penalties with his third goal of the game. The rest of the game belonged to Martinez, who saved a penalty and watched another go wide. Then Montiel stepped up and Cantor took over.

“Argentina es campeón,” he exclaimed, failing to hold back his tears of joy. 

Argentina were finally champions. And Cantor was right, the suffering, before the game and during it, made the victory all the more glorious.

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