The Longshot: Lionel Messi is simply the bisht

Lifting the World Cup completes a Christmas fairytale for the best footballer of all time
The Longshot: Lionel Messi is simply the bisht

LIONISED: Argentina’s captain and spiritual leader Lionel Messi lifting the World Cup.

MESSI lifted a second Golden Ball award for best player of the World Cup on Sunday, matching his achievement in 2014. It was something we tipped in these pages last month.

Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martinez took the Golden Glove and immediately planted the trophy on his crotch (a proud moment for the grandkids to look back on, in time).

Twenty-one-year-old Benfica man Enzo Fernández was young player of the tournament.

And poor Kylian Mbappé was forced to stand up on the elaborate stage with the three opposition award winners and his Golden Boot following the most crushing experience of his ascendant career.

What other awards can we give after living in a Qatari cocoon for a month?

Best penalty: There were lots of penalties. The final itself had three plus eight. But it has to go to poor unfortunate Harry Kane. There are only three ways to miss high from the spot. Hit the bar, hit it ‘out of the stadium’ (even if only millimetres over), and ‘into outer space’ (for a ballooned effort). Kane’s second effort from the spot in the quarter-final was somewhere between the final two (Row Z is only applicable for a clearance).

I had England backed to go out on penalties rather than because of one, so I felt his pain. But ITV commentator Sam Matterface saying “we needed Gary Lineker, but we got Chris Waddle” was a bit harsh.

Best penalty advice: Jurgen Klinsmann on being decisive and sticking to a plan just before the Brazil-Croatia shootout. “Stick to your plan. Stick to your plan A. You can always change your plan on the walk from the halfway line to the penalty spot. If you are not so sure about it, go to plan B, but you better have a plan B. There’s always a chance the goalkeeper might go a bit too early, then you can change your mind just as you are about to hit the ball. But you’ve gotta have a plan.” Or lots of plans.

Worst tip: Lautaro Martinez at 25/1 to be top scorer. He hit the net three times at the World Cup but didn’t score a goal. Murdered numerous good chances. Was unlucky with others. Our money would have been safer sailing on the Marie Celeste than the Albiceleste for this one.

Best quote: Ally McCoist mentioning Mbappé was the first hat-trick scorer in a final where the ball crossed the line for each goal. Well done Ally. The Scot was one of the better co-commentators. At one stage he said a game was “heading in the general direction of the last throw of the dice”. On another occasion, he agreed with Jon Champion that cold air was denser than warm air. “Absolutely, 100%” he confirmed.

Honourable mentions: Carlton Cole said Gareth Southgate needed “to take the seatbelt off” in England’s game against the USA. Rather than the handbrake. And Martin Keown said: “The Netherlands, as we are now allowed to call them.” What?

Most shameless display: Emanuel Macron edges out Gianni ‘Infantile’ Infantino, who got closer to Messi in the cup ceremony than most of the French defence had. But the French president’s attempts to console the losing side after the dramatic final was shrugged off and ignored by most he approached, most notably by Mbappé. That didn’t stop Macron.

It was cringeworthy, but I suppose it’s better than seeing Marine Le Pen trying to cheer up the children of immigrants.

Best accessory: We should all be sick of masks but those worn by Gvardiol and Son were pretty cool.

Worst accessory: Only one entrant here. The negligee. Messi may be ‘simply the bisht’ but that doesn’t mean he should have had a traditional Arab cloak (thinly-veiled propaganda? The Superman cloak would have been more fitting) draped around his shoulders by the Emir of Qatar (or his boss, as is also the case). Fine, they think they were honouring him. But lifting the World Cup trophy is the most iconic image of any captain’s career. Leave him unencumbered by your cultural artefacts. Especially if they look like something your dad gave your mam for her 40th. Next time should we expect the captain to don a stetson and slip on a poncho before mounting a moose?

Best pundit: Only one winner here. It’s not even hometown bias. Roy towers above the rest. His most tetchy comments were those that didn’t go down too well in Brazil, when he criticised their samba celebrations. The next night out, Brazil got dumped out by Croatia. Tactics trump tiktoks, they learned. The decision to trim the beard to a moustache and smig for the decider was excellent too. Roy of the Ronnies was a whole new look and much neater.

Best studio moment: The cutback to Kevin Doyle and Kenny Cunningham channelling their inner Tommy Coopers and both wearing a fez after another Morocco win. Only Messi’s cutback for Alvarez for the second goal in the final was better.

The John Terry moment of the tournament: Retired international Sergio Aguero has been rooming with Messi for the latter stages of the tournament so perhaps he does deserve some credit (who was the poor teammate that got bumped I wonder?) But donning the jersey on the field afterwards? Ok, he didn’t go full kit. Arming yourself with a large drum? Still ok. But taking to the rostrum and lifting the trophy? Not really your place, pal.

Hand of Gonad: Emiliano Martinez gets a stern look from a Qatari official.
Hand of Gonad: Emiliano Martinez gets a stern look from a Qatari official.

Argentina enjoy success after an epic final in Qatar

‘WORLD Cup finals are usually poor entertainment.'

That was the gist of my argument last Friday. I did say this one would not be, but it was pottering on for the most part on Sunday, not dull exactly, just too one-sided.

Far be it from me to say the first 80 minutes of Sunday’s game was below-par; Argentina had played well, looked comfortable (and France terrible) and myself and any reader who followed my recommendation to back them to win the tournament at 11/2 (or at 19/2 after the Saudi defeat) would have been sitting pretty smug.

Messi was about to be garlanded with the crowning achievement of a spectacular career. And that seemed about right.

Sometimes people criticise me when I tell them I don’t back everything I tip.

My usual defence is my money can cut down even the best athletes at their ankles. It’s not that I always lose, just that my bank account has been depleted by some very unlikely events.

But there I was on Sunday, pretty happy with my lot. I’d Argentina backed at 11/2 and 19/2. To win the final 3-1, in extra-time and on penalties. Side bets in pubs. Messi to win the Golden Ball. I’d tipped them in this paper, on the radio, told everyone who asked I thought they’d win. It was a heavy, heavy burden for them to carry.

So Otamendi fouled Muani in the box.

We should all know by now what else happened. I said on Friday most World Cups don’t bear rewatching. Even if they are good, once you know the result, why would you rewatch any match? Yet as I type this, I’ve seen the final 10 minutes of the 90 and extra time again, and two sets of highlights. Watching it live was too emotional. I may have blacked out at certain times.

I feared for the Argentine nation. If they lost this there must have been a good chance rugby would take over from football in their sporting affections (France are 11/4 to win that World Cup at home next year; Argentina are 25/1) Their national side have been trying to conclusively reassert the old adage that two-nil is the most dangerous lead in football, despite statistically not being so.

Didier Deschamps had to take risks. He sent on seven replacements, after only making one in the quarter-final against England. Yet their comeback seemed more about Argentina imploding. I was never more sure of anything in my life than that it would 3-3 right after Messi made in 3-2.

Then a shootout, as close as the civilised world gets to capital punishment. Where executing what on the face of it is a simple enough task for a professional footballer, becomes instead a high-wire act. The person being aimed at, unlike in a firing squad, has the upper hand (two of them in fact). Block the bullets aimed at you and you become the hero. Even if you are a complete unsportsmanlike twat like Emiliano Martinez.

France 7/1 to bounce back

FRANCE are 7/1 to bounce back from their devastating defeat at the weekend and win the next World Cup in North America. Kylian Mbappé will be 27 in the summer of 2026.

Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka, and Phil Foden will be entering their peaks too and Englands are 9/1.

Brazil are 6/1 favourites to match the achievement of 1994 by winning in the US.

Lionel Messi is unlikely to be there at the age of 39 — despite not shutting the door on his international career — but Argentina are 10/1 to win two-in-a-row, which seems unlikely Germany are 10/1 to bounce back from a second consecutive group stage exit in Qatar, while managerless Spain are 11/1.

Roberto Mancini’s Italy are a decent price at 22/1 despite not qualifying for the last two finals.

Current plans will see 48 teams compete across the US, Canada, and Mexico.

EPL: Man City still favourites

NOW that the World Cup is over does anyone remember where we were in the Premier League? Or even what Erling Haaland looks like?

It returns next Monday with the ‘Boxing Day’ fixtures. It will be quite the comedown.

Man City remain firm favourites to win it at 4/9, while trailblazers Arsenal, who must plan without Gabriel Jesus for a while are 11/4. Mbappé and Messi to win the Champions League with PSG? 8/1.

The Bet

WE should surely be allowed ride the crest of our Argentina pick for a few days. La Rochelle also clicked at even money for us by beating Ulster by seven with a minus-five point start (they went 29-0 up at one stage).

Take a gamble on Newcastle to win the Premier League at 33/1.

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