The world’s attention has been focused on the tiny Gulf State of Qatar these last two weeks not for some major political event but for a sport. Football (soccer in the U.S.) has been holding its quadrennial world championship to the joy … and heartbreak … of fans the world over.
The very lucky, or wealthy, or driven, may have watched from the stands of the several stadiums built by Qatar specifically for the event but the rest of us nowadays have TV with its live or post-event broadcasts, given the time differences from Qatar for most of the West.
The final is being described as breathless, staggering, magnificent, the best ever … Argentina struck first, firing two goals in quick succession and putting France on the defensive. So it continued well into the second 45-minute half and then everything changed: When everyone thought it was all over, France responded, first one goal then another to equalize the score and send the game into a 30-minute overtime.
Argentina rose to the occasion and were leading again until Kylian Mbappe equalized for France. Had France won, he would have been the youngest at 23 to carry home a World Cup final win since Pele at age 21. Yet he was still the first to score three goals in a final since Geoff Hurst for England in 1966. England won then; alas a victory eluded Mbappe.
Like so many well-matched sides in this tournament, victory was determined through a penalty shoot-out. It was not to be France’s day; Argentina won, to wild celebration and tears of joy.
In a way, both sides won because of the entertainment they delivered. The game was the best ever in a World Cup match — at last in this writer’s memory.
It was also Lionel Messi’s day. He captained Argentina to victory scoring two goals himself and he won the golden ball award, given to the best player in the tournament — he won it in 2014 as well. All of which has led to speculation: Is he the best player ever? Aficionados can sit and argue that one out. His annual income of $130 million, according to Forbes, and likely to go up due to his performance might provide some consolation.
One cannot feel too sorry for any of the star players after seeing their salaries. Mbappe is reputed to be the highest paid sports person ever taking home over a half- billion Euros under his new three-year contract with Paris Saint-Germain. He was wooed by Real Madrid and it is said Mbappe’s new contract involved the intervention of French president Emmanuel Macron. It might seem churlish to mention the extra quarter billion euros he will collect as a signing and loyalty bonus.
Such are the ways of popular sport. One has to remember star players have short working lives and their entertainment value far exceeds the likes of, say, Elon Musk.