France and Argentina have won two World Cups each but whoever comes out on top in Sunday’s final will be making a little bit of history.
France are looking to become the first team to retain the title since Brazil in 1962, while Lionel Scaloni’s men want to end a 36-year wait to get their hands on the trophy, stretching back to Diego Maradona and Mexico ’86.
That triumph was very much down to one man, one genius (and the infamous Hand of God goal en route to the final) but surely we can’t boil this final – the first between France and Argentina – down to one superstar and ten others for either side? Well, in the case of Argentina, there is some truth in that.
is so vital to his team that it’s difficult at times to picture this functional but not spectacular Argentina side getting to the brink of glory without him.
France, on the other hand, have shown they have so many attacking outlets. Their goals have been shared around in recent matches, with Kylian Mbappe having been kept relatively quiet by both England and Morocco.
Instead, Antoine Griezmann has pulled the strings while Olivier Giroud has led the line well. In midfield, Aurelien Tchouameni has grown in stature. Marcus Thuram and Randal Kolo Muani have proved their worth off the bench.
The focus is not solely on Mbappe. France have deadly weapons and will let Argentina have the ball and try to pick them off on the break. It is a ploy which has worked so far.
Argentina owe much to the industrious Rodrigo De Paul, whose workrate in the middle of the park provides a platform for Messi to strut his stuff. They don’t look to have as many attacking options as France, but while the responsibility so often falls on 35-year-old Messi, he does at least now have a foil in Manchester City striker Julian Alvarez, whose tireless running – not to mention four goals – ease the burden on the great man and creates space for him to operate in.
Messi’s importance to Argentina, rather than shrinking, has grown since he returned from a short-lived international retirement in 2017.
He is likely to depart for good this time following the final. He will be determined to take the trophy with him. Les Bleus are not going to let it go without a fight.
Kylian Mbappe v Lionel Messi
The World Cup is obviously the most prestigious trophy on offer this Sunday but it is features a one-off contest between the tournament’s two outstanding players. Mbappe and Messi are tied on five goals apiece in the race for the Golden Boot, with the Argentina superstar having the edge by virtue of his three assists. Mbappe was probably the competition’s best player up to the quarter-final but while he was kept relatively quiet by both England and Morocco, has still played a leading role in France reaching their second successive final. Messi may be 12 years his senior but, remarkable as it seems, has actually got stronger during the tournament – his virtuoso performance in the 3-0 semi-final win over Croatia bringing back memories of countryman Diego Maradona in his 1986 vintage.
Antoine Griezmann v Rodrigo De Paul
One of the problems of having a star-studded side can be the possibility of egos clashing. But that is not an issue France manager Didier Deschamps has had in turning Griezmann, whose nose could easily have been put out of joint at being withdrawn from an attacking role, into a box-to-box midfielder. Griezmann has had an outstanding World Cup, and an incredible 17 defensive actions were key to their 2-0 semi-final victory over Morocco. De Paul has revelled since being nicknamed Messi’s ‘Bodyguard’ for fighting his corner during a 3-0 win over Honduras in September. He was scapegoated by some in Argentina after the shock defeat in Saudi Arabia but has changed their minds since with a string of all-action performances, having won possession in the midfield more than any other player in Qatar.
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