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Lionel Messi finally lives up to his potential with career-defining World Cup victory

Johannesburg – In a Fifa World Cup filled with upsets and shock results, it would ultimately be Argentina who lived up to their expectations as one of the favourites as they beat fellow heavyweights France in the final, in Doha, on Sunday.

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It was Argentina who reigned supreme after winning 4-2 on penalties after the clash ended 3-3 after extra-time.

And having been previewed as the Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe show, the PSG teammates lived up to expectations, scoring five goals between them.

For years, there has been fierce debate over whether Messi or Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo is the greatest footballer of all time.

But after his victory with Argentina, Messi may have very well put the debate to bed given that he and Ronaldo were enjoying their last dance on the international stage.

Sure, Messi stole the headlines in the final but it’s worth noting that the global showpiece kept everyone on the edge of their seat from day one.

Indeed, it was Argentina that were involved in the first shock of the tournament as they lost to minnows Saudi Arabia in their first match.

While Argentina dusted themselves off to get their campaign back on track, the other favourites fell fell by the wayside.

England, Spain and Brazil looked the part early on but by the time the semi-finals were played, they had boarded their flights back home.

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises came in the form of Morocco as they made it all the way to the semi-finals before losing to France.

The Walid Regragui-coached side became the first African nation to qualify for the semi-finals, having also finished top of Group K.

It was a massive achievement for Africa, and one which their leaders can learn from given that Morocco’s success wasn’t built overnight.

When Fifa pumped R300-million into each of the 54 CAF regions recently, Morocco put the money to good use, building the Mohammed Vl Complex.

The state of the art facility in Rabat has already begun to pay dividends for Morocco as the face of their football has changed for the better.

Their women’s national team recently qualified for the World Cup for the first time, Wydad Casablanca are the reigning continental kings – something that they achieved at the expense of the African Club of the Century Al Ahly and Morocco are also due to host the 2023 Club World Cup finals in February.

This will be a first for Africa, who’ll now have two representatives in the showpiece: Wydad as hosts, while Al Ahly will also represent the continent.

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The 2026 World Cup will be interesting with 48 nations set to compete for the ultimate prize in North America, across the US, Canada and Mexico.

But for now, though, the footballing fraternity should be thankful they witnessed Messi and Argentina make history in the Middle East.

@Mihlalibaleka

IOL Sport

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