By STEVE DOUGLAS AP Sports Writer
LUSAIL, Qatar — Lionel Messi’s once-in-a-generation career is complete. The Argentina superstar is finally a World Cup champion.
Messi scored two goals and then another in a shootout as Argentina beat France 4-2 on penalties Sunday to claim a third World Cup title despite Kylian Mbappé scoring the first hat trick in a final in 56 years.
Now there’s no debate. Messi is definitively in the pantheon of soccer’s greatest ever players, alongside Pelé — a record three-time World Cup champion from Brazil — and Diego Maradona, the late Argentina great with whom Messi was so often compared.
Messi has achieved what Maradona did in 1986, dominate a World Cup for Argentina.
In Key Biscayne, home to many Argentines, there was bedlam at Milanezza, where fans bedecked in team jerseys waved the Argentine flag and leapt on chairs after the match was decided. Outside, horns started honking across the island. A small group of fans cheering France looked dejected — but took it in stride.
Messi put Argentina ahead from the penalty spot and played a part in Angel Di Maria’s goal that made it 2-0 after 36 minutes.
Mbappé scored two goals in a 97-second span to take the game to extra time, and then Messi tapped in his second goal in the 109th minute. But there was still time for another penalty from Mbappé to take the thrilling game to a shootout.
Gonzalo Montiel scored the clinching penalty kick after Kingsley Coman had an attempt saved by Emi Martinez and Aurelien Tchouameni missed for France.
Tony Winton contributed to this report.