If you’re here, you probably watched that incredible World Cup Final match between Argentina and France on Sunday.
You watched, without hyperbole, one of the greatest finishes to a major tournament you’ve ever seen in your life.
The penalty kick by Lionel Messi in the 23rd minute. The Ángel Di María strike at 36 minutes to make it 2-0, a lead Argentina maintained for nearly the rest of regulation. France’s Kylian Mbappé finally making his mark on the match, emphatically netting his own PK in the 80th minute and tying the game around 90 seconds after.
The 2-2 tie, headed for extra time. Messi and Mbappé again trading goals just 10 minutes apart. The dangerously close yet missed opportunities —like Emiliano Martinez’s all-time save just before time expired— sending us to penalty kicks at a 3-3 deadlock.
And then penalty kicks themselves.
I just hope you were watching on Telemundo, where Andrés Cantor, an Argentinean-American legendary broadcaster, might’ve moved you to tears…
The emotion in watching his home country win the World Cup. The images and videos we’ve seen of impromptu parties in Buenos Aires and Rosario —Messi’s hometown— and all throughout Argentina.
It perfectly captured why this event, the pinnacle of the world’s most popular game, stops everything in its path every four years.
Where things stand today is that Argentina snapped a 36-year-long drought of not winning the World Cup, now having their third in their country’s history and their first of the Messi era. The first World Cup won by a Latin American nation since Brazil in 2002. The only World Cup won in the long-debated Messi-Ronaldo rivalry. And the coronation of arguably the greatest of all time, a 5-foot-7 physically unassuming dynamo with the ability of a one-of-one virtuoso.
But despite all of that, this run isn’t even over!
Messi says that his playing days with Argentina will continue despite the previous widespread belief that he’d hang up his cleats following this World Cup, win or lose. He doesn’t say for how long, nor is he committing to the 2026 World Cup yet, but he’s coming back for more.
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) December 18, 2022
As outlined here just a few days ago, the next World Cup will take place from June through July 2026, when the world’s greatest tournament returns to its standard summer schedule. It will also be joint hosted by North American nations Mexico, Canada, and the United States.
By then, Messi will be 38 years old and will turn 39 just over two weeks into the Cup.
Let’s say he continues to play international fútbol for that much longer. He’d become the first-ever player to compete in six World Cups in his career. The current record is five, held by Messi, his premiere rival Cristiano Ronaldo, and a growing list that includes Mexican greats Andres Guardado, Rafael Marquez, Guillermo Ochoa, and Antonio Carbajal.
Even at 38 going on 39, Messi wouldn’t be close to the oldest player to ever appear in the World Cup—a distinction that goes to Egypt’s Essam El Hadary, who played in the 2018 tournament at 45.
But before then is Copa América, the biggest fútbol tournament featuring teams from North, South, and Central America and the Caribbean, which returns in 2024. Copa América was originally going to be held in Ecuador, but there are rumors that the United States may host that as well. However, nothing has yet been solidified.
Argentina won the most recent Copa América in 2021, where Messi was named Best Player in the tournament. It was his first and only international title before what you saw this weekend.
There have even been reports of Messi playing stateside for Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami, co-owned by legendary footballer David Beckham, but nothing’s official yet.
Playing catch-up has already begun for the rest of the Latin American countries. Nations like the United States and Mexico will be under immense pressure to close the gap between them and elite Latin American nations like Argentina and Brazil for the World Cup they’re hosting in three and a half years.
Furthermore, the 2026 Cup will open the door for an additional 16 teams, with the field expanding to a 48-squad bracket. Perhaps it’s promising for countries like Uruguay, Colombia, or Costa Rica to again make surprising runs as they did in 2018 and 2014, respectively. For nations like Chile, Panama, Peru, and Ecuador to qualify more consistently. Or teams like Venezuela to finally break through like they’ve tried and failed for generations. (As much as I’d love for Puerto Rico to do it, their world No. 170 ranking isn’t encouraging, but moving along…)
While the next men’s soccer World Cup might be three and a half years away, we won’t have to wait long for World Cup. The women’s World Cup, hosted in Australia and New Zealand, arrives next June and features nations like the back-to-back defending champion United States, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, and Costa Rica. There will be playoff rounds in February to determine the final three squads in the 32-team field. Those competing for spots include Chile, Haiti, Paraguay, and Panama.
But for now, the Messi-Ronaldo debate has ceased for many, and Argentina has won the World Cup, their first in 36 years, their third all-time—and one that will resonate in the proud fútbol nation forever.
One more time from Señor Cantor: “Argentina es campeón del mundo!“
Bryan Fonseca is an award-winning content creator and sports journalist. He is also the author of Hidalgo Heights, and the founder, host and executive producer of the Ain’t Hard To Tell Podcast and Side Hustle. Twitter: @BryanFonsecaNY