Doha, December 17
It is now or never for Lionel Messi. The Argentina superstar’s once-in-a-generation career will be defined — for many — by whether he leads his country to the World Cup title tomorrow.
Can he finally, at the age of 35, win football’s biggest prize to secure his place alongside Pele and Diego Maradona in the pantheon of the game’s greatest ever players? Standing in his way are France, the defending champions, and Kylian Mbappe, the player best positioned to take over from Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as football’s marquee name. That’s if he hasn’t already. Mbappe is also standing on the cusp of history heading into the match at the 80,000-seater Lusail Stadium, a title decider that is filled with storylines.
The 23-year-old France forward is looking to emulate Pele by being a champion at his first two World Cups and set up the prospect of a third title, a feat only ever achieved by the Brazil great who has been hospitalised during this year’s tournament because of a respiratory infection.
To stop Mbappe you need a collective effort. But France is more than just Mbappe. Sunday’s game is much more than Messi against Mbappe, it’s Argentina vs France. Lionel Scaloni, Argentina coach
In a World Cup final, there is the match, but also the context which is particular. But I know that the Argentinians, and maybe some French people too, would like to see Messi win. Didier Deschamps, France coach
Mbappe was 19 when he led France to their second World Cup title in 2018, becoming the youngest scorer in a final since a 17-year-old Pele did so in 1958. While Pele ended up being a peripheral figure in Brazil’s 1962 triumph — he didn’t play in the knockout stage because of injury — Mbappe has been France’s go-to player in the team’s bid to repeat. Indeed, Mbappe enters the final tied as the tournament’s leading scorer with five goals. The player alongside him? Messi, of course.
Who wins the Golden Boot — the award for the top scorer — is just one of the many other narratives around the final.
There’s France, the dominant national team of this generation, looking to become the first to win back-to-back World Cups since Brazil in 1962. The country that produced Michel Platini, Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry and now Mbappe will be playing in the final for the fourth time in the last seven World Cups, more than anyone else.
Then there’s Didier Deschamps, a World Cup winner as a player in 1998 and now bidding to win it two times as a coach. Vittorio Pozzo was the only other man to coach two world champion teams, with Italy in 1934 and 1938. Like France, Argentina are seeking a third World Cup title — after 1978 and 1986 — to move into outright fourth place in the all-time list. It would end a 36-year wait for football’s biggest prize, since Maradona’s string of virtuoso performances in Mexico in 1986.
That made Maradona forever a hero in Argentina, and an icon around the football world. Messi now appears to be at that level — win or lose tomorrow when he’ll play in a record 26th World Cup match.
Messi has evoked comparisons with Maradona in the way he has pushed Argentina to the final, scoring five goals, setting up three more and thrilling his team’s legion of fans. — AP
4 Deschamps’ France will be playing in the final for the fourth time in the last seven World Cups, more than anyone else.
1 With a goal in the final, Lionel Messi would become the only player in World Cup history to score a goal in every possible round of one World Cup tournament (group stage, Round of 16, quarterfinals, semifinals, and final).
1 Only one other team in World Cup history recovered from defeat in their first match to win the title — Spain in 2010, who lost to Switzerland 1-0 to begin Group H play.
2.4 Argentina have conceded just 2.4 expected goals across the entire tournament, behind only Brazil and Mexico. The 1.3 shots on target faced per match is the lowest in the tournament.
6 Argentina are making their sixth appearance in the final of the World Cup, with only Germany (8) reaching the final on more occasions.
10 France have gone 10 World Cup games against South American opposition unbeaten, dating all the way back to defeat to Argentina in 1978.
14 Deschamps has won 14 of 18 World Cup matches in his career, the second-most wins by a coach in history behind only the 16 of Helmut Schon of West Germany.
Mbappe vs Molina
Mbappe is a candidate for the World Cup’s Player of the Tournament, having led France to their second consecutive final. The jet-heeled 23-year-old forward has scored five times in six games, surpassing his tally from the 2018 tournament. Mbappe’s explosive pace and technique were a nightmare for Morocco’s defenders Achraf Dari and Achraf Hakimi, who tried in vain to stop him getting down France’s left channel in their semifinal. Now, Argentina right-back Naheul Molina will be tasked with marking Mbappe.
Messi vs Tchouameni
One of the most anticipated match-ups will be Argentina great Messi against France’s rising star holding midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni. They have faced each other once before, as Paris St Germain and Monaco played in the French league in the 2021-22 season. Messi got the better of Tchouameni in that encounter, with PSG winning 2-0.
Fernandez vs Griezmann
Antoine Griezmann’s has been the cornerstone of France’s success in the tournament, creating several chances while also dropping deep and breaking up play. Playing a similar role for Argentina is rising star Enzo Fernandez, an intrinsic part of Scaloni’s system as a box-to-box midfielder.
All France players start training for final
France’s Raphael Varane, Ibrahima Konate and Kingsley Coman, who missed training on Friday with a virus, were present at the start of today’s session on the eve of the final against Argentina. Midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni and left-back Theo Hernandez also trained.
Scaloni tight-lipped on Argentina lineup
Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni kept his cards close to his chest when quizzed about his likely lineup as he prepares to face holders France in the final. “We have our gameplan, we know how to play them and now we just have to execute,” Scaloni said. Agencies
Most Read In 24 Hours
Don't MissView All
NCERT drops chapters on Periodic Table, Challenges to Democracy, others from class 10 textbooks
Also removed a full page on Political Parties from newly rel...
Khaps extend full support to wrestlers in Muzaffarnagar 'mahapanchayat', mull approaching President if needed
BKU spokesman Rakesh Tikait said final decision on issue of ...
Punjab CM's security team declines Centre's Z plus security cover to Bhagwant Mann for Punjab and Delhi areas
Says the CM is protected at both these places by the Punjab ...
Centre to set up panel under retired High Court chief justice to probe Manipur violence: Amit Shah
Said six specific cases pertaining to violent incidents to b...
Indian Air Force's trainer aircraft crashes in Karnataka, pilots eject safely
The training aircraft, which took off from the air force sta...