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LUSAIL, Qatar — Kylian Mbappe sat on the bench with his legs apart, his navy blue France jersey pulled up high enough to cover his entire head. The cameras flashed to his face, looking for a tear or two, but this was what he had to do to escape. Even for a moment.

Mbappe eventually got up and took a deep breath. Argentina had just beaten the defending champions Les Blues In an epic World Cup final on penalties after a 3-3 draw in extra time. And it was Mbappe who willed an otherwise depleted France side into a game that looked lost for much of regulation.

France’s Kylian Mbappe looks dejected after the reigning champions failed in their bid to repeat. (Photo by Michael Regan – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Down 2-0 in the 80th minute, Mbappe scored twice in less than two minutes to force extra time. Then, after Lionel Messi scored heroically to give Argentina a 3-2 lead in the 109th minute, Mbappe responded with his third goal in the 118th to make it 3-3 and force a penalty shootout.

“We came back from the dead,” said French manager Didier Deschamps.

Argentina-France highlights

Argentina-France highlights

In an epic World Cup final, Lionel Messi won his long-awaited title and France were denied a repeat bid.

Mbappe became the first male player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final since England’s Geoff Hurst in 1966. Carli Lloyd did it in the 2015 US Women’s World Cup final.

His brave goal ban took his tally here in Qatar to eight, earning him the tournament’s Golden Boot. Mbappe has now scored 12 goals in 14 World Cup matches, as did Pele decades ago. Former German star Miroslav Klose holds the all-time record with 16, which Mbappe will almost certainly break. Probably in four years.

“It was a stunning performance, magnificent,” Deschamps said of his star. “Kilian really made his mark in this final. “Unfortunately, he didn’t leave it the way he would have liked, which is why he was so disappointed at the end of the match, as were the rest of his teammates.”

To know anything about Mbappe, however, is to understand that he does not care about individual awards or glory. His performance on Sunday night, which was certainly good enough for France to win, was one from a player who stubbornly refused to go away.

So when he walked on stage to accept the small gold trophy shaped like a soccer ball, he didn’t smile. He wore the same dejected and solemn expression as he and his teammates received their silver medals.

Earlier in the tournament, when France beat Poland in the last 16 after Mbappe scored twice, he was asked what the top scorer’s finish would be. But he nodded at that question and turned away.

“If I win, I will be happy, but that’s not why I’m here,” Mbappe said at the time. “I’m here to win the world championship.”

France could not do it.

A fairytale finish for Mbappe’s Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Messi, who finally achieved the one thing that had eluded the living legend, was too much to overcome.

The first 70 minutes of the match were disastrous for France. Argentina was completely overpowered and crushed Les Bleus and even coming out of the break France looked ready to give up.

Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni organized the defense well and contained the French attack. Mbappe had just 11 touches at half-time and France had zero shots, on or off goal. Every time Mbappe got on the ball, some combination of Nahuel Molina, Cristian Romero and Enzo Fernandez were there to apply the pressure.

“Our players were 100% fit, maybe some tension,” said Deschamps. “But that’s no excuse. We didn’t show the same energy as we had in previous matches. That’s why we didn’t participate in the meeting for the first hour.”

Then, in the 71st minute, Mbappe made his first shot. The ball flew over the crossbar, but it felt like something was brewing.

In the 80th minute, the defender of the Argentine national team, Nicolas Otamendi, committed an unnecessary foul on Randal Kolo Muani in the penalty area. Mbappe converted the spot-kick to give France a boost.

He then scored again 97 seconds later after a break-up with Marcus Thuram saw the 23-year-old strike the ball into the bottom right corner of goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.

France gained momentum in extra time. Argentina looked flustered and briefly lost their composure. Messi committed a silly foul on Eduardo Camavinga to start and players on both sides were exhausted and a little frostbitten.

Then Argentina got several chances. Lautaro Martinez had chances on the rebound which were fearlessly saved by France captain Hugo Lloris. The game got tighter and tighter. The cameras showed French President Emmanuel Macron with his arms folded in a box.

Messi scored in the 109th minute and the majority of the 88,966 fans roared. Martinez’s right-footed shot from the right edge of the box was saved by Lloris, but Messi got hold of the rebound and scored his second goal of the match. Jules Cunde tried to save it, but the ball went over the goal line, giving Argentina the lead.

Would Argentina last this time or will France come back again?

The latter was provided by Mbappe.

In the 116th minute, Gonzalo Montiel played with his hand in the penalty area, and Mbappe scored his third goal in the subsequent penalty.

“It changed everything in an instant,” Deschamps said. — But that was not enough.

Kylian Mbappe equalized in the 116th minute

Kylian Mbappe equalized in the 116th minute

Mbappe’s penalty eventually sent the game to a shootout, where France eventually fell short.

Ultimately, the World Cup final ended in a shootout, with Argentina winning four penalties to France’s two.

The evening ended with Messi and his team-mates lifting the coveted trophy as their loyal fans, who outnumbered their French counterparts by tens of thousands and made the Stadium of Light a home-field advantage, waved their blue-and-white striped shirts above their heads. in uncontrollable celebration.

Deschamps said at the beginning of the tournament. “Kilian can make a difference in a match on his own.” He did as much as he could, so that France deserved to win as much as Argentina. Les Bleus wanted to make history and become the third team to win back-to-back World Cup titles.

However, the good thing for France is that Mbappe has many more World Cups ahead of him. This was only his second. His disappointment in Qatar will surely keep him going, at least until 2026.

“It wasn’t planned,” Deschamps said later, adding: “I’m not worried. I’m optimistic about the future.”

Just like France should be thanks to Mbappe.

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Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. He has previously written for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of Strong Like a Woman, published in the spring of 2022 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow him on Twitter @LakenLittman.

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