Lusail, Qatar – For most of the first half, Kylian Mbappe hardly saw the ball. The beginning of the second half was not any better.
The match had been billed as Messi versus Mbappe, but it was the little Argentinian who was having all the joy in Lusail. Messi — with the help of Angel Di Maria — had tormented the French backline.
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With 10 minutes to go, Argentina were 2-0 up and cruising, passing the ball around comfortably.
In the stands, Les Bleus were outnumbered and out-cheered in the 89,000-capacity arena, swamped by a sea of sky blue and white jerseys. Most sat in silence, staring blankly at the green turf below, the Tricolours no longer waving.
Les Bleus needed an inspiration, almost a miracle.
Step forward Kylian Mbappe, the lightning-quick striker who led them to the 2018 trophy. Whenever the going gets tough, Les Bleus turn to their star forward.
Mbappe gave his team a lifeline, putting away a penalty with nine minutes to go.
But the 23-year-old was not finished. He followed it up with a sumptuous volley, bringing the score level and taking the match into extra time. It was his seventh goal of the tournament.
Suddenly, it was the French who were now smelling blood. The South Americans were holding on for dear life, as Mbappe was now on the charge.
The Paris St-Germain forward was at his best, even in extra time with everyone around him showing signs of tiredness.
But Messi, 35, had the reply. He put his team ahead in extra time. Mbappe replied from the penalty spot two minutes later. He had his hat-trick.
Mbappe becomes the second player to score a treble in a World Cup final. The last time it was done was in 1966 by England’s Geoff Hurst.
“We are witnessing a big legend in the making,” French fan Thierry Tiquant told Al Jazeera.
“We did not deserve to lose. Mbappe did not deserve to lose. That performance will be remembered forever.”
Mbappe secured the golden boot with his hat-trick; he scored a total of eight goals in Qatar.
“He really tried. He was the best player on the pitch today. I know many people will talk about Messi. But he played better than Messi tonight,” Maurice Toussaint said.
In Lusail, he became the youngest player to reach 10 World Cup goals. He broke the record at the tender age of 23 years and 363 days.
He surpassed the German Gerd Muller’s record of 24 years, 226 days.
Mbappe now has 11 World Cup goals and when the next edition of the tournament comes around, he will still only be 27 — a frightening prospect for his opponents.
“Mbappe is the future,” Malcolm Joseph said. “There is no player his age who is even close to how good he is. He is unbelievable.”