Lionel Messi last night held out the prospect of playing on for Argentina, having finally lifted football’s greatest prize after a World Cup final for the ages.
Having ended his country’s 36-year-wait for the World Cup and been dressed in a ceremonial Qatari ‘bisht’ robe by the Emir of Qatar, the 35-year-old player of this tournament said he wanted to ‘keep playing in the Argentina jersey as world champions.’
An emotional Lionel Scaloni, Argentina’s coach, also held out the hope last night that Messi would be in the side for the 2026 World Cup in the USA, Canada and Mexico. The 44-year-old also paid tribute to Messi for having encouraged him to have faith, during a late night heart-to-heart phone call after the nation had struggled in a qualification game against Brazil, a year ago.
Argentina legend Lionel Messi has revealed he has no plans to retire from international football
The 35-year-old superstar led his nation to their first World Cup triumph since 1986 on Sunday
Scaloni said: ‘We need to save him for the next World Cup – 2026. If he wants to keep playing, he will be with us. He is more than entitled to decide what he wants to do with his career now.’
Messi had told Scaloni in the phone call: ‘It will be ok. We will move on. We have to try at least.’ Scaloni said of their talk: ‘With his answer I did realise we were doing things right. That gave me so much energy, it was an emotional boost.’
Messi failed to show at a press conference as the game’s man of the match. But the emotion was written across the No 10’s face after Argentina’s penalty shoot-out win, when his mother Celia Cuccittini approached him and they embraced on the pitch.
Messi, who many fans claim to be the best player in history, finally won football’s biggest prize
Scaloni said that it had decided within a year of taking over as manager, in 2018, that his strategy must be to find players who could work for and help Messi. ‘We realised that we had great players and we could facilitate things for Messi. Help him out,’ the coach said. ‘It was about realising who would help Messi on the pitch and feel comfortable with him.’
After 80 minutes of the final, Messi seemed to have reached the place in Argentinian lore which Diego Maradona discovered by bringing the trophy home in 1986 – only for his PSG teammate Kylian Mbappe to lead an extraordinary comeback, scoring twice in 97 seconds.
But Mbappe was the one left devastated. He became the first player to score a World Cup final hat-trick since Geoff Hurst in 1966 and clinched the golden boot for his eight goals, to Messi’s seven, yet still ending up on the losing side. ‘Kylian has left his mark but didn’t leave it as he would have liked. He is very disappointed, said France manager Didier Deschamps.
After an enthralling 3-3 draw, Argentina beat France 4-2 on penalties to win the tournament
Deschamps, whose substitutions and shift of Messi to the centre were key to the comeback, said he felt the virus which had hit the team camp may have affected his players. Deschamps said: ‘The squad have been facing a tricky situation for a while and that could have affected them. We just didn’t show the energy for an hour.’
There will be some who do not see Argentina as heroes today. Emiliano Martinez scuffed the penalty spot when Mbappe took his second penalty to complete a hat-trick in extra-time.
He then kicked the ball away when Aurélien Tchouameni ws preparing to take his spot-kick in the shoot-out.
France boss Didier Deschamps seemed unhappy with the refereeing decisions in the first half
Deschamps was gracious in defeat but hinted at the Argentinian gamesmanship. ‘Argentina showed great aggressive, experience and cunning,’ he said.
Martinez, whose team had taunted of the Dutch after beating them on penalties in the quarter final, was ungracious. He said: ‘Two crappy shots and they (France) levelled. They give them another penalty, they scored. Thank God later I did my thing, what I dreamed of.
‘There could not have been a World Cup that I have dreamed of like this. I was calm during the penalties.’
Deschamps, who said his team had come ‘back from the dead’ in the game, seemed unhappy with some of the refereeing decisions, with the penalty Angel di Maria was given to put his team ahead certainly very questionable. ‘I said before the match that Argentina had been lucky,’ Deschamps remarked. ‘I’m not saying they were helped. But I have spoken to the referee.’
France captain Hugo Lloris, did not blame the virus for the team’s struggle for the first 70 minutes of the game. He said: ‘We’re not going to make excuses, we gave everything. You have to congratulate the guys because we didn’t give up until the end.’
Scaloni said he wished Maradona, who died in 2020, had been present to witness the team’s glory. ‘We are such a football passionate country and if he were here, he would have enjoyed it so much. I wish he was here to enjoy this moment,’ he said.