Just two teams remain at the first-ever World Cup in an Arab country, a tournament which has produced so many wonderful moments that fans no longer want it to end.
Despite all the epic upsets throughout a fascinating tournament, the two nations who take to the
Lusail Iconic Stadium are well balanced and fully deserve to be here after some exceptional feats.
At the 2022 World Cup final, Argentina will look to lift their first world title since a Diego Maradona-inspired triumph in 1986.
Meanwhile, France are the first side since Brazil in 2002 to reach back-to-back finals of the global showpiece and they will be in the hunt for a piece of history which will make them the first team to successfully retain the world title in 60 years.
This clash is another epic face-off between Europe and South America after both sides served up a spectacle in their Round of 16 meeting at the 2018 World Cup. That day in Kazan announced Kylian Mbappé’s ascent in a knockout game on the world stage but Lionel Messi is back roaring in his final World Cup tournament.
The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner is well-backed to lead Argentina to avoid a second World Cup final defeat in eight years but Mbappé is in search of two winners’ medals in his first two tournaments.
This could well prove the handing over of the baton to the next-generation superstar or a coronation of this generation’s outstanding talent. Nevertheless, one of Paris Saint Germain’s superstar frontmen will cap off a fantastic individual tournament with victory.
Legacy vs Legacy
Although France vs Argentina has been billed as a battle between the world’s most gifted forward and his heir apparent, there are several legacies on the line for both sides. None more so than Messi’s trusted lieutenant Ángel Di María who has walked the walk with his long-time teammate and friend.
Messi himself is driven by a sense of destiny to lift the World Cup which will consolidate his place alongside Pelé and Maradona as the greatest to ever kick a football.
The 35-year-old is missing only one trophy from his extraordinary career having suffered defeat to Germany in the 2014 final and he is desperate to give Argentina a third world title in his last dance at this stage.
Buoyed by the outrageous support of up to 35,000 Argentinians in each game in Qatar, Messi has produced moments of magic every step of the way.
Despite floating on the periphery of games, there were impeccable finishes against Mexico and Australia, the pass of the tournament to Nahuel Molina against the Netherlands and the stop-start dribble, burst of speed, agility and precision that embarrassed Joško Gvardiol for the third goal of the semifinal against Croatia.
Messi has compiled an individual highlights reel of his trademark variety in Qatar and an image of the famous golden trophy in his hands would top off an amazing story.
Elsewhere, fellow Golden Ball and Golden Boot contender Mbappé has eyes on becoming a two-time world champion two days before he turns 24, a claim only Pelé can make in world football.
Marcus Thuram will hope to seal a special piece of history as his father Lilian Thuram – France’s second-highest all-time appearance maker – scored his only two international goals in the 1998 semifinal on the way to their maiden World Cup win on home soil. Theo Hernandez is also desperate to make his senior brother, Lucas, a back-to-back World Cup winner after he damaged a cruciate ligament in the opening minutes of the tournament.
Turning adversity into an advantage has been the hallmark of Les Blues’ 2022 World Cup campaign as they were ravaged by pre-tournament injuries to N’golo Kanté, Paul Pogba, Presnel Kimpembe, Christopher Nkunku and Karim Benzema. Their buildup to this final has also been affected by illness to members of the squad.
Nevertheless, the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Aurélien Tchouaméni, Olivier Giroud, Adrien Rabiot and Raphaël Varane have been exemplary as they have stepped up, while France saw off Morocco in the semifinal thanks to Randal Kolo Muani – the late replacement for Christopher Nkunku – with his first touch of the night.
Didier Deschamps’ side have so far displayed the mentality of serial winners without so many key players but can they take one final step to upset Messi and millions of supporters all over the world?
The Europeans are the defending champions but not the favourites for this game despite losing only one of three cup finals under Deschamps.
Perhaps this is the perfect approach to this game for them tactically and psychologically.
Lionel Scaloni has been tactically adaptable since the tournament began as he tweaked the system after losing their 36-game unbeaten streak to Saudi Arabia in the opening game.
Alexis Mac Allister has been integrated into a wide midfield role while Julián Álvarez has impressively replaced Lautaro Martinez in a front pairing with Messi in a 4-4-2 shape. Yet, they lined up in a 4-3-3 against Australia in the Round of 16, were able to mimic the Netherlands’ 3-5-2 shape in the quarterfinal and adopted their preferred 4-4-2 to perfection against Croatia in the Last Four.
On the flip side, Deschamps has afforded himself a chance at unprecedented history due to his innate ability to forge a team spirit and conjure precise results from his team. With eight survivors of the 2018-winning squad, this current group is tailor-made to win regardless of the performance as their coach looks to become the first man in World Cup history to lift the trophy once as a player and twice as a manager.
Under the 54-year-old, France have won eight World Cup knockout ties and scored first in each. Should they take the lead in Lusail, Argentina would be forced to take more risks which opens up space for Mbappé and Ousmane Dembele on the counterattack.
Before then, La Albiceleste’s flat midfield four would outnumber France centrally while they look to feed Messi in the areas occupied by Rabiot, Tchouaméni and Hernandez. Rodrigo De Paul would be key in that plan which also sees him tracking the supply to Mbappé on their right channel.
This will ultimately be the battle of who blinks first, and with six members of the class of 2018 expected to start for Les Blues, the know-how could prove crucial.