In the case of Messi and Mbappé, the Paris St Germain teammates faced off on the greatest football stage of all – the World Cup final in Qatar in December 2022. Mbappé’s hat-trick in the final helped him to win the Golden Boot as the World Cup’s leading goalscorer, with a total of eight strikes. If it is hard to believe that a 24-year-old who scored three in a World Cup final – the first hat-trick in a final since Geoff Hurst for England in 1966 – still ended up on the losing team, then that is testament to the heroic achievements of Messi in Qatar.
The Argentine legend collected the one prize that eluded him by leading his country to the third World Cup in their history, scoring two goals in the final. His total of seven strikes – one behind Mbappé, whose 118th-minute strike in the final edged him out of the Golden Boot – and three assists across the tournament inspired his country and earned him the Golden Ball as player of the tournament. Domestically, Messi also won his first trophy with PSG, the Ligue 1 title. Mbappé shared in that league success and also ended the 2021-22 season by becoming the first player in French Ligue 1 to finish a campaign as the leading scorer and assist provider.
Nadal’s chronic foot injury bedevilled his preparations for the French Open in May, but the return to the tournament he has dominated since 2005 saw him pull off another superhuman victory. Nadal rallied to pick up his 14th Roland Garros crown – including a memorable five-set quarter-final victory over Djokovic en route to a straight sets win over Casper Ruud in the final. Afterwards, he spoke about the pain management which led to his success. “I had been off the practice courts for a month and a half with a stress fracture on my rib, and then I had a problem with my foot. It stayed there all the time. We played with no feeling in the foot, with a [pain-killing] injection on the nerve. The foot was asleep, and that’s why I was able to play.”
Curry struck a blow for the elder statesmen and embellished his legendary status by leading the Golden State Warriors to a fourth NBA championship in eight seasons, and the seventh in the history of the franchise. During the season, Curry became the NBA’s all-time leader in career 3-pointers, breaking previous holder Ray Allen’s record in 511 fewer games. He also won the NBA Finals MVP for the first time in his career after his inspirational performances against the Celtics added a fourth ring to his collection. Curry’s first three came in 2015, 2017 and 2018, but there followed a series of injury-blighted campaigns before the cathartic win in 2022. “I thank God every day that I get to play this game at the highest level with some amazing people,” said Curry. “They know this is what it’s all about, playing for a championship, and what we’ve been through the last three years.”
Meanwhile, Max Verstappen secured domination of his own sport of Formula One by picking up a second world championship title with four races to spare. The 25-year-old Dutchman topped the podium in a record-breaking 15 races, beating the previous record of 13 held by Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel. Like 2021 – when he edged out Lewis Hamilton in the final race to claim his first title – Verstappen had to overcome adversity of a different kind to be crowned a double world champion. After three races, he trailed Charles Leclerc by 46 points but retained his composure to dominate the second half of the season. “The emotions are very different [after winning the second world championship]. We won the Drivers, and the Constructors, we had a lot of victories as a team, so I would say this one is better and more rewarding.”