After a month of nonstop international soccer, the 2022 World Cup has come to an end. How on earth do we process that final? Who were the best players? And what were the biggest takeaways from a controversy-filled tournament? The Ringer staff has answers to those questions and more.
1. The 2022 World Cup final was a game for the ages. How do you feel in the aftermath?
This is the greatest sporting event I’ve ever seen.— Oluwajomiloju (@JomiAdeniran) December 18, 2022
Aric Jenkins: I’m just coming down from the high. For the last 36 hours, I’ve been in a delirious state of shock and incredulity. But mostly I’ve been feeling very happy. I’m happy for Lionel Messi, and I’m happy that I had the privilege of witnessing such a spectacle.
Brian Phillips: Honestly? I woke up at 4 a.m. and spent the next 10 hours being violently ill. I think this was the result of food poisoning, not some delayed reaction to the stress of the final—though who knows—but the best review I can offer of the game is this: Despite all of that, I am still in a good mood.
Kellen Becoats: As someone who wore an Argentina jersey to a watch party with some France fans giving me pointed looks around the 82nd minute, a mix of relief, smugness, and pure exhaustion.
Micah Peters: I do think the best team playing the best soccer at the right time eventually won, but I would’ve loved to see France steal it at the end, almost as much as I enjoyed watching Emi Martínez use his Golden Glove award as a lewd prop like a tertiary character in an office comedy.
2. What was the single best moment of the game?
Jenkins: Kylian Mbappé’s equalizer. Flipped the game on its head; sent the bar where I was watching into utter hysteria. It was some finish, too.
Adeniran: The second Mbappé goal was the moment I ran across the room screaming. That was when it went from a regular final to one of the greatest games of all time.
Phillips: I’ll also go with Mbappé’s second goal. His first, the penalty, had looked destined to be a meaningless consolation. Argentina had been the better team from the opening whistle, were still leading 2-1, and had to hold on for just a few more minutes to win the trophy. Then the second goal happened. Not only was it one of the best goals of the entire tournament, but it also leveled the score and threw out the narrative that had been building to that moment. It announced that Mbappé wasn’t going to submit meekly to Messi’s destiny. It woke the match all the way up.
Peters: For me, it was just before the end of regular time, some 15 minutes after Mbappé became unplayable. He was scything in off the left, turning defenders to ash—I was standing inches from the screen, yelling for blood—and at the very last moment, he was put off the game-winning finish by Tagliafico. The spoilsport.
Becoats: There are far too many to choose, but the one that will live rent-free in my mind is Dibu (Emiliano) Martínez shimmying in the middle of a World Cup final penalty shoot-out. Just a generational trolling performance. It cannot be emphasized enough that he did this MID-shoot-out. Not when they’d already won it. Argentina could have collapsed after this, and thank goodness they didn’t.
Close runner-up is Alexis Mac Allister’s postgame message to his partner, which might have won outright had this happened during the game.
3. Nothing more can be said about the greatness of Lionel Messi. But Kylian Mbappé … what does his future look like?
Adeniran: It’s bright. He’s currently the only person playing that can hope to match Messi’s achievements. At only 24 years old, Mbappé is well on his way.
Jenkins: There isn’t a single player better equipped to rival the career of Messi (and, sigh, Cristiano Ronaldo) than Kylian Mbappé. No, seriously. Look:
Lionel Messi at 23 vs Kylian Mbappé at 23:— SPORTbible (@sportbible) December 17, 2022
- Games: 269 vs 302
- Goals: 180 vs 222
- Assists: 82 vs 111
- Major Honours: 11 vs 12 pic.twitter.com/gITpGF2Okr
Messi isn’t retiring tomorrow (he made that much clear shortly after the final), and I still find it hard to believe that Mbappé will be as productive over such a long stretch of time—he’d have to score, like, 60 goals a year for the next decade. But it’s not … impossible to imagine? And, perhaps more significantly, it feels borderline reasonable to expect him to match Pelé’s record of three World Cup titles. He will most certainly be back.
Phillips: Tuesday is his 24th birthday, so I hope his present includes a party. As for his future … well, considering that he hauled a badly depleted French team to the final and almost won it single-handedly—despite the virus that had been making its way through the camp, despite the absences of Benzema and Kanté and others—I’d say he’ll be OK. Maybe not at Paris Saint-Germain! But OK.
Peters: Didier Deschamps’s double change before the half effectively meant that Mbappé was leading the line, which no one—specifically Christophe Galtier at PSG—can really get him to do since he seems to hate playing with his back to goal. The results were mixed until he naturally drifted out wide again—his second goal is a prime example of his effectiveness there. I think that means he’ll probably just get more of what he wants, including a move to Real Madrid, regardless of the deal he signed in the summer.
Becoats: I mean, dude is definitely going to Real Madrid sooner rather than later, which will be great for the folks who aren’t tuning in to Ligue 1 Uber Eats (yes, that is the full name of the French men’s top division). It’s undoubtedly awesome watching Messi, Mbappé, and Neymar tear through Ligue 1, but it will be interesting to see how Mbappé adapts to La Liga.
Considering that no amount of talent or money will ever make me believe PSG can win the Champions League, I think young Kylian decamps for the Spanish capital within the next year or two. While he’s there, expect him to win a Champions League or two and continue to torment every country in his path whenever he puts on a Les Bleus jersey, from now until he retires.
4. Throughout the tournament, who was the unsung hero for Argentina?
Peters: I can’t really count him as unsung if he’s the Young Player of the tournament, but let’s hear it for Enzo Fernández, whom Lionel Scaloni used as a Swiss Army knife. Argentina was capable of changing shape multiple times per match because of Fernández’s versatility—the 21-year-old could cover the fullbacks as a defensive midfielder, play as a left center back himself, and peel forward as an extra attacker. And there was that gorgeous curler he scored against Mexico; can’t forget that.
Phillips: I want to say Emi Martínez, but I guess the goalkeeper who wins the Golden Glove is literally … sung. So I’m taking Alexis Mac Allister. I could just as easily name Enzo Fernández here, but Mac Allister was so reliable in the center of the pitch for Argentina. And in the final he seemed to be everywhere at once, cutting off French attacks, starting Argentine breakaways, and gluing the whole formation together. And his pass to set up Di María’s goal—hell, the vision he showed just to spot the pass—displayed the quality that might make it hard for Brighton to hold on to him after this tournament.
Jenkins: Tottenham fan here. I have to go with Cristian Romero, but don’t worry, I came with receipts:
Cristian Romero vs. France yesterday..— Footy Accumulators (@FootyAccums) December 19, 2022
➜ 1st in clearances 
➜ 1st in recoveries 
➜ 1st in headed clearances 
➜ 1st in accurate long passes [8/10]
➜ 1st in aerial duels won 
What a performance pic.twitter.com/FCYPrOndzk
Cristian Romero now with flawless performances in a Copa América final & World Cup final. And not only flawless performances, but the way he uses his aggression to close space and actively stop attacks before they can get started, is a huge net positive. Both finals in a back 4.— Premier League Panel (@PremLeaguePanel) December 19, 2022
Romero was at the heart of this defense for the majority of the tournament. He’s Argentina’s enforcer, who terrorizes his opponents with crunching tackles without managing to get sent off. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.
Becoats: There are too many players to choose from, but I’ll go with Nicolás Otamendi. Before the tournament, I thought Argentina’s defense was cooked. Dibu Martínez is a next-level goalkeeper, but he had 34-year-old Nicolás “You Know He’s Got a Mistake in Him” Otamendi ahead of him? This guy?! But Argentina conceded only five times ahead of the World Cup final, and their bend-but-not-break defense always made it seem like they had a chance. That said, did he get exposed in the final and give up the penalty that got France back into the game (and also apparently could have been a red-card offense)? Yes. But after fans got their Twitter fingers out to say that Otamendi was “destroying Messi’s legacy,” the Benfica center back got the last laugh. He may not have been perfect, but he didn’t have to be.
Adeniran: Julián Álvarez stepped up in a HUGE way. The question heading into the tournament was, “Where would Argentina get their goals from besides Lionel Messi?” Álvarez left the World Cup tied for third in goals. Just a massive showing from him.
5. Name your five-a-side (including one goalkeeper) team of the tournament.
Becoats: Dibu Martínez (GK), Josko Gvardiol (D), Sofyan Amrabat (M), Lionel Messi (F), Kylian Mbappé (F). Good luck beating us.
Phillips: Messi, Mbappé, Amrabat, Antoine Griezmann (phenomenal despite the no-show in the final), and Martínez at GK.
Adeniran: Give me Emilio Martínez in goal, Dayot Upamecano in defense, Messi and Griezmann in midfield, and Mbappé up top.
Jenkins: In goal I’ll take Dominik Livakovic of Croatia, who managed to make the most saves in the tournament (25) despite playing behind a competent defense. Hakimi holds down the back, with Jude Bellingham and Messi in midfield and Mbappé up top.
Peters: Emi Martínez at keeper for both pinpoint distribution and his proficiencies in dark magic. Gvardiol at center back alongside Amrabat playing out of position, but Rodri did the same thing for Spain, so I think it works out. In the middle I’d have the all-action Enzo Fernández and up top I’d have Mbappé, who can do it all by himself.
6. Other than the final, what was your favorite match of the 2022 World Cup?
Phillips: Argentina-Netherlands, which I’ll remember as a sort of prelude to the final. A final lite.
Jenkins: It has to be Argentina-Netherlands. That free kick equalizer in added time is one of the most audacious things I’ve ever seen in this sport.
Peters: I would have to say Spain-Japan, when the former shipped two goals right after halftime and for about five minutes it seemed like Costa Rica would join Japan in the knockout rounds at the expense of Spain and Germany.
Becoats: Morocco stunning Portugal in the quarters after the latter had utterly dominated Switzerland in the previous round. To that point, many people still considered the Moroccans a cute story who were riding the luck of their defensive tenacity. But their 1-0 win over yet another European power cemented their legacy and made them the first African or Arab team to make it to the World Cup semifinals. And bonus points for giving us this moment.
Adeniran: The Spain-Morocco match for me. Conventional wisdom would have Spain moving on quite easily, but Morocco upset the Spanish and we suddenly knew the Moroccans were for real.
7. What prediction were you confident about heading into the tournament that now just feels plain silly?
Jenkins: I really thought Qatar was going to at least put up a fight.
Peters: “Brazil, easy. They have nine forwards.”
Adeniran: Brazil making it to the final. Every cycle, we think, “This is it! This is the year for the Brazilians!” and every year we are left disappointed. I’ve seen enough.
Becoats: I picked Canada as my dark horse in the tournament in an ill-fated attempt to get Canadian citizenship. Other than that, my predictions went pretty well!
Phillips: “Could Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi win the 2022 World Cup? Sure. Will either of them win it? Probably not!” I said these words out loud, on my podcast. And while they weren’t strictly untrue at the time, I do regret not choosing life and rolling the dice on a Messi prediction.
8. With the dust now settled, what is your biggest takeaway after watching the 2022 World Cup?
Becoats: Messi is and has always been the GOAT, don’t @ me.
Peters: When in doubt, launch the ball up the field.
Phillips: That the game of soccer has seldom been more entertaining and the administration of the game of soccer has seldom been more depressing.
Jenkins: The U.S. actually has a pretty decent team? We were pressing like Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund at times. Give this team a striker and some quality young center backs and the Americans might be able to do some damage.
Adeniran: On the field? The greats always rise to the occasion, especially in the game’s biggest moments.
Off the field? I will chip in every single dime I have to please give the World Cup rights back to ESPN. Or give it to NBC and Rebecca Lowe. I now see Alexi Lalas in my sleep. I can’t spin Fox again four years from now.
9. With the World Cup next coming to North America and expanding to 48 teams, what is your way-too-early prediction for 2026?
Phillips: England will win the 2026 World Cup. I already told you, I don’t believe in jinxes!
Jenkins: Norway qualifies and Erling Haaland and Martin Odegaard lead the Lions to the quarterfinals.
Adeniran: Nigeria is the first African nation to win the World Cup.
FLY SUPER EAGLES FLY!
Becoats: Americans are gonna buy into the propaganda and convince themselves that this USMNT team can go further than is reasonably expected (and be super annoying about it on whatever social media we flock to after Twitter finally shuts down).
Peters: Whether the groups are three teams or four teams—there’s been a lot of talk of even more concurrent matches and pregame shootouts—at the end, Kylian Mbappé will be playing in the final and France will probably win.