On Sunday, France and Argentina will clash for ultimate glory at the Lusail Stadium in Qatar. Les Bleus, the defending champions, will aim to become the first country since 1962 to retain the title. La Albiceleste, on the other hand, will aim to lift the trophy and seek revenge for their 4-3 defeat in the 2018 Fifa World Cup’s round of 16.
It would have been hard to imagine Lionel Messi-led Argentina reaching the finals when they were defeated by Saudi Arabia, one of the lowest-ranking teams, at the start of the tournament. For many, Diego Maradona’s comments were coming true.
“We shouldn’t deify Messi any longer…He’s a great player, but he’s not a leader,” Maradona said in 2019 after the team’s exit from the 2018 World Cup. For many, it brought back memories of the 2014 World Cup when the team lost to Germany in the finals. Things were, however, about to change.
In the next match against Mexico, Messi entered the field with a changed aura. He was more dominating, more teasing and more controlling. Come the 64th minute, Messi sent the ball past Guillermo Ochoa to the bottom left of the net, and there was no looking back for the team. They dismantled Netherland’s team in the high-powered quarter-finals and 2018’s runners-up Croatia in the semi-final.
Eventually, in Copa America 2021, the team defeated Brazil and lifted the Copa America, Messi’s first international trophy. Sunday’s win will prove Messi’s leadership qualities and perhaps put the debate about him being the best player on the planet to rest, at least for some.
For France, the 23-year-old Kylian Mbappe is arguably the most important player. Till now, he has scored five goals in the tournament, the same as Messi. But more notable is his pace and the capacity to make in-behind runs. It was evident in the match against Poland and, more recently, against Morocco.
At this young age, he has been in two World Cup finals, winning the only one that has taken place. If France lifts the trophy on Sunday, Mbappe will perhaps prove worthy to be heir to the throne owned by Ronaldo and Messi for over a decade now.
Of course, it will be ridiculous to reduce Sunday’s clash to just Messi vs Mbappe.
Argentina’s Julian Alvarez, who travelled to Qatar as a substitute, has had a dream run. His clinical scoring has given the edge to the team time and again throughout the tournament. Angel Di Maria, Messi’s old accomplice, is also expected to play on Sunday. Midfielder Rodrigo De Paul, Defender Lisandro Martinez and Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez will be other players to watch for.
France’s Ousmane Dembele, Aurelien Tchouameni and Jules Kounde provide the team with youthful aggression and structure. Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann have the potential to send the ball flying into the other team’s goal with considerable ease. Case in point? Griezmann’s cross and Giroud’s goal in the 78th minute in the quarter-finals against England.
Sunday’s match is a classic. High-stake, unpredictable and between two highly offensive teams. It is also Messi’s last international match. Perhaps, also the last World Cup match for Di Maria, Giroud and Griezmann.
Will it be France to achieve what no other team ever has?
Or will Argentina bring the elusive title back to South America after 20 years?
We’ll know in just a bit.