Euro 2020 Special
 

World Cup Final Preview: Will it be France or Argentina?

France will meet Argentina in the final of the 2022 Qatar World Cupin Lusail on Sunday, December 18th.

It will be the climax to what has been one of the most controversial tournaments in World Cup history, centred on whether the host nation was a suitable place to hold it in the first place against a backdrop of the conditions of migrant workers, human rights abuses, and the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community.

It has also been a tournament that has seen more than its fair share of upsets, and seen an African team – and Arab one for that matter – make history.

However, at the end of it, there are two heavyweights of the game left standing.

 

France defy expectations

Expectations among the French populace that their side could defend the title they won in Russia were low ahead of the tournament because of injuries to several key players and internal divisions within the camp with their star player Kylian Mbappé at odds with the country’s Football Federation and refusing to cooperate with one of the major sponsors.

Despite that, they have shown their strength in depth in all positions on the field, and also that they have a winning mentality.

Their manager Didier Deschamps ascribed that as being the difference between the two teams in their win over England, and it enabled then to survive the white hot atmosphere of their semi-final clash with Morocco.

 

Argentina recover from terrible start

Argentina made the worst possible start to their World Cup campaign, losing their opening match to Saudi Arabia in what was one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament.

But they still recovered from that to top their group and have got stronger the deeper they have gone into the tournament, surviving a bad tempered quarter-final with the Netherlands – a record 18 yellow cards were issued – eventually wining on penalties.

Their semi-final with an obdurate Croatian side was expected to be a close affair. But in the end, they won it at a canter with Lionel Messi at the heart of everything they did well.

 

Messi’s farewell

Messi, Argentina’s captain, has already confirmed the final will be his last World Cup match and he is looking to bow out in style.

This is his fifth World Cup and, although he was part of the team that was beaten in the final in 2014, this is arguably his best chance to lift the trophy.

Having never previously scored a goal in the knock-out stages of a World Cup before, he has scored and assisted one in each of the three knock-out games Argentina played in Qatar.

He will be hoping on Sunday to shed his tag as one of the greatest players never to have won a World Cup.

 

Argentina need to stop Mbappé

France have their own talisman in the form of Mbappé, who, despite being just 23, could be about to pick up his second consecutive World Cup winners’ medal.

Currently tied with Messi in the race for the Golden Boot, awarded to the top goalscorer in the tournament, he did not score in the semi-final win over Morocco but was heavily involved in both goals and offered a constant menace with his pace and power.

Like Messi, he has the ability to change a game by himself.

 

The odds

Even if the teams are evenly matched in the market, France will begin as the slight favourites, although there is every chance that the match will go to extra time and even the dreaded penalties.

Most neutral fans will be hoping that does not happen and that the game can be won in 120 minutes by either team. Penalties are an arbitrary game of deciding a match at the best of times, let alone a month-long tournament featuring 32 teams.

 

Prediction

Whilst it is tempting to distill this match into a personal duel between two teammates – both Mbappé and Messi play for PSG in France at present – it is much more than that, with top class players on both sides and two of the best goalkeepers in the tournament in the shape of Hugo Lloris for France and Emi Martínez for Argentina.

Despite the romanticism that would go with a Messi victory, though, France may just have the edge because they know how to win in tournament football. 

They can cope with the pressure of the big occasion, and in Mbappé, may just have the player who can tilt the balance in their favour.

 

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