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An eyewitness account of the greatest World Cup final ever

Argentina vs France was the dream final that Fifa wished for. It was South America vs Europe; Lionel Messi vs Kylian Mbappe; a duel involving the two best players employed by PSG, a club owned by Qatar Sports Investments. It was the greatest final ever, writes MARK NAMANYA.

By 10 am, fans were already making long queues at various metro stations to make their way to Lusail Iconic stadium, the venue of Sunday’s World Cup final.

There were very long queues because while the ticket-holding fans were headed for Lusail, the ticketless ones were destined for the big Fan Fest at Al Bida where there would be a series of events including a giant screen showing the final.

Sunday also happened to be Qatar National day. So, queues were exceptionally long and public service slowed down with most people at home resting. Uber orders took long and if one got through, the fares were unusually high.

The gates at Lusail would be opened at 2am for fans, by which time traffic to the stadium was already building. Argentina fans, the best of the tournament, were singing, drumming and colourfully dressed as they bossed virtually all areas near the stadium. The Lusail Boulevard was all painted white and blue.

Maradona-style wigs were evident from afar, while the most popular shirts worn by Argentina fans were Lionel Messi’s, the team’s icon and talisman. The entrance to the official Fifa World Cup had a long stream of patient supporters with each one hoping to pick one or two souvenir items on the final match of the biggest competition in world sport.

The French fans were present and passionate, but their best efforts were drowned out by their Argentine counterparts. The closing ceremony saw David and Aisha do the Hayya Hayya track, the official anthem of the 2022 Fifa World Cup. There were further performances from Ozuna and Gims, who did Arhbo, and the full female line up of Light the Sky; Fatehi, Balqees, Rahma Riad and Manal.

With the Emir of Qatar, global leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and the world’s richest man Elon Musk present, there was maximum security inside and outside Lusail.

When the game started, few could have predicted how events would unfold. Argentina fans were in cruise mode once their team took a
commanding 2-0 lead at half time after goals from Messi and Angel Di Maria. The South Americans were running riot and France seemed not to know what had hit them.

Uganda’s minister of State for Sports, Peter Ogwang, was seated a few metres from me in the Media Tribune, accompanied by MP Asuman Basalirwa. Ogwang was all clad in Argentina gear, while Basalirwa was wearing French colours. Fufa Executive Committee member Rogers Byamukama was also with them, dressed in the Les Blues shirt.

“I am disappointed,” Ogwang, who was rooting for Argentina, said at halftime. “I came to watch a classic game, but this has been one-sided.”

Well, he spoke too soon. The French fight-back in the second half, inspired by their superstar Kylian Mbappe, would create arguably the greatest final in the history of the World Cup. For accomplished Spanish journalist Guillem Balague, author of books on Pep Guardiola, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, this is the greatest football match he has ever watched.

“Nothing compares in the years I have been associated with football,” Balague said on Sunday night.

With every French goal, the decibel levels reduced among the Argentina fans in the stadium and the French went in ascendancy. Across the media tribune, Basalirwa and Byamukama, who were previously looking sedated were bundles of energy while Ogwang was frozen like ice.

“This is unbelievable; I think Argentina are going to lose it,” Ogwang remarked after the 120 minutes with the score line reading 3-3.

It was a wild, crazy, intense game where emotions flowed back and forth. Even in the Media Tribune where emotions are usually restrained, there were gasps at the unending drama with the match swinging like a pendulum every minute.

There was an Argentina fan behind me who covered his eyes for every penalty taken by an Argentine player.

“I don’t have the guts to watch. I may die,” he said.

And he was not joking; he was trembling, terrified and in a state of horror. When Gonzalo Montiel calmly rolled his kick past Hugo Lloris to confirm Argentina as world champions, Lusail Iconic stadium trembled on its foundation. There was a deafening roar that seemed to lift the ground into the skies.

Lionel Messi and Argentina had reached the promised land, fueled by the most passionate and patriotic fans you will ever see. It was hard on Mbappe and the French team who refused to die in this most epic of contests; they played in a match that will live for ages.

The American photographer Nicos Crisostomo called it the best game he has ever attended.

“I have been to five World Cups but I haven’t seen anything like this.”

Seated in Media Tribune, I felt privileged that I had been part of a game that will be spoken about for eternity.

mnamanya80@gmail.com

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