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Argentina's Lionel Messi has been chasing a World Cup win for 16 years

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK. People in sports sometimes say an exceptionally close game is a nail-biter. So it was fitting yesterday when the World Cup final went into extra time and the TV broadcast briefly showed a woman literally biting her nails.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

So was I. Argentina prevailed in a game that went into extra time and then a penalty kick shootout to decide the winner. This was a faceoff between two nations, two teams, and also, arguably, the two best players in the world - Kylian Mbappe of France and Lionel Messi of Argentina.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine American journalist and host of the podcast The Last Cup, which is about Messi's life story. Wow, well timed.

Jasmine, welcome.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: How are your fingernails? You OK?

GARSD: My fingernails are fine, but my voice is a little raspy. I've been screaming for, like, 5 hours straight. I'm so sorry.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) It's OK. You'll get through it. You'll get through it. What was it like yesterday as you were watching?

GARSD: Oh, my God. I've been hearing that this is, like, one of the most beautiful World Cup games to ever be played. It was completely unpredictable. Argentina dominated in the first half. We scored two goals, and it looked like a sure bet. But there are no sure bets in soccer. Late in the second half, France scored two goals to tie the match. I was watching at a packed bar in Brooklyn.

(Speaking Spanish).

(CHEERING)

GARSD: They played 90 minutes of regulation. They played an additional 30 minutes of extra time and then went into penalty kicks. You know, each team gets five kicks to define the game. So really, Steve, up until the very end, it was anyone's guess to how this was going to end.

INSKEEP: Yeah. I felt like Mbappe and Messi, the greatest players on each side, were present at every key moment. It was almost like a movie in that sense, as if they were scripted as the stars. Both of them scored goals, of course. Both scored penalty kicks. And I want to mention Messi, the guy you've been following for so long, seemed just super calm, almost nonchalant, which is amazing, considering the pressure on him at this moment.

GARSD: Yeah. I don't know how he did that. I mean, Lionel Messi is considered one of the best players in soccer history. He's never won a World Cup, though. The pressure was huge. And for Argentina, which is, like, a soccer-obsessed nation, this was seen as a huge failure, never winning a cup. This World Cup was his last chance. He himself said he'd be retiring from the tournament after this one. This was it. He did it.

INSKEEP: Did it mean as much to him personally as it seems to to his country?

GARSD: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think that - I think this was a dream. And I think everyone kind of got behind him on this dream. In Argentina, soccer is kind of, like, the unofficial religion.

INSKEEP: And, of course, Argentina's a soccer-obsessed nation, as you mentioned. How did people respond to the win there and also where you were in New York City?

GARSD: I mean, the country is just one big party. And, you know, for me, I left the bar in Brooklyn; I went to Times Square after the game, and it was completely taken over by celebrating Argentine fans. And I was astounded by the sheer size. Check it out.

ALEJO DE LOS REYES: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: That's Argentine immigrant Alejo De Los Reyes. He's just saying, "we deserve this. We deserve some happiness."

INSKEEP: Well, you deserve to rest your voice.

GARSD: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: Thank you for taking the last of it here to talk with us this morning, Jasmine.

GARSD: Thank you so much, Steve.

INSKEEP: And Jasmine is the host of a podcast about Lionel Messi, La última copa/The Last Cup. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.