Lusail, Qatar – They jumped into the air. His fists waved with delight. Finally it was all over, and they had won.
Gonzalo Montiel had just scored the decisive penalty for Argentina to defeat France in the dramatic World Cup final in Qatar and become champions again after their last triumph in Mexico 36 years ago.
In the stands of the packed Lusail Stadium on Sunday, those in blue and white cheered and hugged each other in an explosion of relief and jubilation. What preceded was a tense 120 minutes in regulation time and extra time, in which France came from behind twice to send the 3-3 lead to penalty shootouts.
“I can’t describe the feelings I have right now,” Argentinian fan Pablo Ramírez tearfully told Al Jazeera shortly after captain Lionel Messi lifted the trophy.
“It’s the best day of my life,” said the 34-year-old, who traveled to Qatar from the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires.
“Finally, we are champions again,” said the businessman. “It’s been a long time. … I thought France would win after that comeback. I was shaking a lot.”
He was not the only one.
Argentina’s coach Lionel Scaloni was also visibly emotional as he dedicated the win to his parents.
“I can’t believe we suffered so much in a perfect match,” he told reporters after the final. “Unbelievable, but this team responds to everything.”
“I am proud of the work they did. With the beating we took today, this excites you. I want to tell people to enjoy. It is a historic moment for our country.”
The match, arguably the most exciting World Cup final in history, had just about everything.
Argentina took the lead in the 23rd minute when Messi scored from the penalty spot to become the first player to find the net in all four knockout rounds at the same World Cup.
They extended their lead in the 36th minute when winger Ángel Di María finished off an excellent collective play that began in the Argentina half.
La Albiceleste remained in control until around 10 minutes before the end of regulation time when French superstar Kylian Mbappé scored from the penalty spot.
And less than two minutes later, Mbappé surprised the Argentine fans with a second goal, which sent the game into extra time.
Messi responded with his second goal of the night in the 108th minute to put Argentina up 3-2, but a handball in the box from Montiel gave Mbappé the chance to convert his second penalty and France leveled again.
In the penalty shootout, Argentine goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez saved Kingsley Coman’s spot kick, while Aurelien Tchouameni also missed France’s goal before Montiel scored Argentina’s fourth penalty to end it all.
Argentine fan Carlos Ruiz said he had never felt so nervous in his life.
“My heart was in my throat,” he said, describing his emotions after France’s equalizing goal in regulation time.
“I could hardly sit still,” said Ruiz, who grew up near Buenos Aires but now lives in Tampa, Florida. “It was a stressful but incredible match, and for Messi to finally win it in his last World Cup…he is definitely as big now as Diego. [Maradona].”
The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner had won everything that can be won as part of a soccer team, except the most coveted award of all.
“It’s crazy that it happened this way,” Messi, 35, told reporters after the game. “I really wanted this. I knew that God was going to give it to me. Now I’ll enjoy it.”
“Look at this trophy,” said the Paris Saint-Germain striker. “It’s beautiful. We suffered a lot, but we did it. I can’t wait to be in Argentina to see how crazy this is going to be.
Argentine fan Augusto Fasio felt the same.
“I can’t wait to fly back home,” the Mar de Plata resident told Al Jazeera in Qatar. “I want to be with my people when the team comes home. We’ll be partying for a week.”
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