Argentina and France have both won the FIFA World Cup twice. In the high tension final tomorrow (December 18) each will be vying for their third honour. The stakes are the highest that can be in world football.
Each team is packed with stars, and every move of each player of each team has been studied thoroughly throughout the tournament so far. Everybody knows how the other plays, except for the fact that superstars always have that extra trick up their sleeves, those super moves that come out of instant innovations that cannot be foretold. The star-power of this final is such.
On one side there’s Lionel Messi, one of the greatest to ever play the game, in pursuit of his first World Cup trophy. At 35 years, this will most likely be the Argentina superstar’s last chance to win football’s biggest prize. He has also said so in a press conference, though public appeal is such that a return is not unlikely next time around. After all, people will still be wanting a Christiano Ronaldo back in fray the next time Portugal play.
On the French side is Kylian Mbappé, who at 23 has already won the World Cup. He was part of the team that clinched the trophy last time, though then he wasn’t the superstar he is today. Mbappé will want to do a double, in back-to-back tournaments as he is quickly climbs into the same rarified atmosphere that currently hosts his club teammate Messi.
Of course, there are many other highly talented players on both sides, but the narrative will be dominated by the PSG stars on either side of the field.
France’s head to head against Argentina isn’t pretty. They have won only three of 12 meetings in all competitions and lost two of three World Cup clashes, but that epic 4-3 victory at the previous World Cup set Didier Deschamps’ men on course for the title.
Indeed, Les Bleus have won seven World Cup knockout games in succession – two shy of Brazil’s record – as they look to become only the third side (after Brazil in 1962 and Italy in 1938) to successfully defend their title.
Hugo Lloris could become the first player to captain a team to triumphs in consecutive finals, while Didier Deschamps could become the first coach to do so since Vittorio Pozzo oversaw both Italy successes in the 1930s.
Marcos Acuna and Gonzalo Montiel are both at Lionel Scaloni’s selection, having served a one match ban in the semi final against Croatia. Angel Di Maria came off the bench against the Netherlands, but didn’t feature against Croatia, with the Argentines already two goals up by half time. He could come back into the side though for the final.
As for France, Adrien Rabiot and Dayot Upamecano were both dropped following flu cases, where Youssuf Fofana and Ibrahima Konate replaced the previous starters, respectively. However, both players should come back in to the side if fit.
Both teams have braved off good sides in the knockout rounds, and both have scored over 12 goals in the tournament, with France one ahead of Argentina on 13. There will be caution in the air and there is a possibility of a deadlocked regulation time, with extra time and even penalties clicking in.
The Messi factor
Messi been incredibly influential for La Albiceleste till now. His five goals and three assists, including that beautiful assist for Julian Alvarez against Croatia last time out, at this tournament have boosted the 35-year-old to a joint-record 19 goal involvements across his World Cup career. He would become the first player ever to score in every round at a single World Cup if he scores in the final. He’ll look to exploit spaces in the French backline left by the marauding Theo Hernandez. Raphaël Varane and Ibrahima Konaté will have their work cut out managing the space in behind as Messi looks to thread balls through for Alvarez.
An the Mbappe scare
Whatever Messi can do, PSG club-mate Mbappe will hope to do too. Of course, unlike Messi, he has won a World Cup, scoring in the final against Croatia in Russia. Should Mbappe net again, he would become the youngest player to get on the scoresheet in multiple finals at 23.
Either Griezmann or Mbappe have the opportunity to become the fifth man to score in two finals and the second (after Brazil’s Vava in 1958 and 1962) to score in two in a row.
One of these two players, unless Olivier Giroud is a goalscorer, is likely to finish with the Golden Boot, and probably the Golden Ball as well – the prize for the tournament’s best player.