The 2022 World Cup final was billed as the battle of the No 10s – Argentina’s Lionel Messi versus France’s Kylian Mbappe.
It was the seven-time Ballon D’or winner up against the young pretender to his throne as the world’s greatest player. And boy how the Paris Saint-Germain pair delivered on Sunday in what was one of the greatest finals of all time.
After 80 minutes of the showpiece in Doha, Argentina looked to be cruising to victory and a first title since 1986. The South Americans were 2-0 up thanks to a penalty from the talismanic Messi and a second goal from Angel Di Maria.
And then Mbappe strode into centre stage. First, he scored a penalty, then produced a sweet right-footed strike to level the scores. Game on. Extra time.
But the magician Messi struck again in the second period of extra time, pouncing to fire home what was surely the winner.
Mbappe had other ideas. He became the first player since Sir Geoff Hurst in 1966 to score a World Cup final hat-trick after slotting home a penalty to make it 3-3.
After four weeks and 64 games, it came down to penalties. Mbappe and Messi made no mistake but France's Kingsley Coman and Aurelien Tchouameni missed theirs to hand the trophy to Argentina – and allow Messi to take his place alongside Maradona in the pantheon of Argentina's greats.
On the road to the final, so many players had left an indelible mark on the tournament, from some of the biggest names in the game to those who seized their chance to shine in Qatar.
The surprise package of the tournament were Morocco, with players such as Yassine “Bono” Bounou, Sofyan Amrabat and Achraf Hakimi making a huge impact on the competition as the Atlas Lions became the first African and first Arab team to reach the semi-finals.
Young stars like England’s Jude Bellingham, the Netherlands’ Cody Gakpo, Morocco’s Azzedine Ounahi and Portugal’s Goncalo Ramos marked themselves out as future World Cup superstars.
At the other end of their careers, the likes of Luka Modric, Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski were among those who will probably join Messi in bringing down the curtain on their World Cup careers.
In the gallery above and the list below, Ian Hawkey picks his team of the tournament in Qatar in a 4-3-3 formation. To move to the next image, just swipe.
World Cup 2022 team of the tournament
Goalkeeper - Yassine Bounou (Morocco)
The Atlas Lions’ historic progress took its impetus from the back. ‘Bono’, as he is affectionately and admiringly known, motivated with his words, spread self-belief with his spectacular saves and courage and thrived in the pressure moments - the penalties against Spain and his reaction save to deny Bruno Fernandes late in the quarter-final against Portugal.
Right-back - Achraf Hakimi (Morocco)
Ever-industrious and impeccably consistent in a defence that kept losing senior men to injury but still was breached just once through the first five matches of the tournament. Powerful and productive going forward, too - and a picture of unruffled confidence when he converted the winning penalty in the last-16 round shoot-out against Spain.
Centre-back - John Stones (England)
A pillar of England’s defence in Qatar and during their rise through the last three tournaments, where Stones has been an ever-present. The Manchester City man was alert and vigilant and a reassuring partner to Harry Maguire. Stones’s comfort on the ball, distribution and progressive instincts also helped England snap out of their occasional phases of negative wait-and-see.
Centre-back - Josko Gvardiol (Croatia)
Gvardiol had the bad luck that one extended, losing tussle with Lionel Messi will be among the most replayed passages of the World Cup. Besides those few seconds, the figure in the protective mask was towering and authoritative, his challenges tough and well-timed, his marking astute. A wonderful goal in the third-place play-off will be his happy souvenir.
Left-back - Ivan Perisic (Croatia)
Slotted in at left-back for the bronze-medal match, a small retreat from his usual wing-back or midfield role, but Perisic, as most of his coaches will testify, can play anywhere - always to a very high standard. His set-up of the opening Croatia goal against Morocco on Saturday was inspired, a third tournament assist to add to his goal against Japan.
Right midfield - Antoine Griezmann (France)
Ingeniously repurposed as an attacking - and often an all-terrain - midfielder by coach Didier Deschamps as France faced up to the absences through injury of senior men in the middle of the pitch. It worked. Griezmann, a career striker, applied intelligence and energy to the new responsibilities. He goes back to Atletico Madrid as an even greater asset than he already was.
Centre midfield - Sofyan Amrabat (Morocco)
Before November, he was probably the less celebrated Morocco international in his own family, still in the shadow of brother, Nordin, a much-travelled playmaker and former Atlas Lion. In a month commanding the base of midfield, judging expert passes in transition, executing masterly tackles and interceptions, Amrabat junior has made himself a hugely coveted anchor midfielder.
Left midfield - Luka Modric (Croatia)
He turned 37 with yet another winner's medal in the Champions League and La Liga. In his 38th year, Modric now has a bronze to go with his previous World Cup silver. Inspirational and apparently ageless once again for a country that consistently punches above its weight, population pool and resources. The next World Cup will feel emptier for Modric’s absence.
Right-wing - Lionel Messi (Argentina)
He gave his fifth World Cup a highlights reel of skills that could have been drawn from any stage of his wonderful career, rolling back the years. He reminded that, quiet he may be, when the 35-year-old Messi speaks, he inspires. Argentina’s less-than-starry team were elevated by their superstar. He was the architect of the final’s wonderful team goal, scored two himself and, at last, seized his cherished gold medal.
Centre-forward - Richarlison (Brazil)
A heavy pressure clings to the Brazil number nine shirt, and if this World Cup ended with expectations crushed for the five-time winners of the competition, the shortcomings will be identified in other areas than their centre-forward. Richarlison combined aggression and moments of exquisite skill in interpreting a position that he is only seldom assigned at club level.
Left wing - Kylian Mbappe (France)
Gave France the impetus for the comeback from 2-0 down in the final, calmly converted his second penalty to launch a second comeback in extra time. A hat-trick in a World Cup final is just one of his history-making achievements from a tournament where he was decisive again and again. Finished in second place this time, but there are plenty more trophies to come to him.