World Cup: Football’s greatest night, and greatest warrior, will live long in memory

DOHA – The streets of Msheireb in downtown Doha were eerily quiet on Monday morning. Barricades that had been in place for a month were gone, as were the TV trucks and security presence that had previously filled the area.

After 28 days and a record 172 goals across 64 matches, the World Cup in Qatar was finally over. But the epic spectacle that played out the night before, which culminated in Argentina lifting the Cup after beating defending champions France on penalties, will continue to live long in the memory.

In the end, it was all about Lionel Messi, of course. How could it not be ? He finally fulfilled the quest that had hung over him for 16 years as the heir to the best player Argentina – and some say the world – had ever seen, Diego Maradona.

A journey that left those alongside him, like Angel di Maria, who had won the Under-20 World Cup with him in 2005, an emotional wreck on the pitch at the Lusail Stadium after the final whistle brought an end to an eventful, chaotic, enthralling match.

Tears soon made way for outpouring of joy for others.

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni, a mess at first, was later seen bopping up and down on the pitch with his two sons, as the team’s adoring horde of supporters serenaded them with Muchachos Ahora Nos Volvimos a Ilusionar – the team’s unofficial anthem in Qatar – from the stands.

These wonderfully passionate fans had played their part in the final, masterfully. Some had dyed their hair blue for the occasion. Others stripped off their shirts and twirled it in the air over their heads in delirium after Messi scored in extra-time. For two-and-a-half hours, they sang, they cried, they embraced each other.

As did four billion people all over the world, from Buenos Aires to Bangladesh, to bars, coffee shops and lawns in Singapore. Even the world’s richest man, Elon Musk, tweeted from inside the Lusail.

The final made all of them, temporarily at least, forget about the controversy that plagued Qatar’s hosting of the tournament, politics, the pandemic, and recessions. They gave themselves fully to what was unfolding in front of them or their screens.

There had been 21 finals before Sunday night and plenty were memorable. For all its woes and issues, the drama and entertainment the final delivered on Sunday was the perfect advertisement for the brand of football.

The climax of the 1930 edition, featuring a one-armed goalscorer from a Uruguay side victorious over Argentina, was said to be thrilling, as was 1954’s Miracle of Bern, where West Germany defeated the Mighty Magyars of Hungary.

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