The World Cup Final pitting Argentina against France, Lionel Messi against Kylian Mbappe, was eagerly anticipated by many, none more so than host Qatar..
The best player in the world versus the second best, an old master versus a young prodigy, the tournament’s two top scorers, one aiming to cap off a glittering career with the only prize in football that has so far eluded him, the other on the verge of winning a second World Cup at the age of 23.
Most importantly for the host country, both are employees of a Qatari state project at Paris Saint-Germain. Qatar desired this final above all, pitting the country’s greatest assets (with apologies to Neymar) against each other in the showpiece of their lavish global event..
Whatever happens on Sunday, Qatar will end the event by crowning one of its own poster boys as king, and the country will be forever linked to one of football’s most compelling storylines. Messi’s presence ensures that the final will either end in triumph or disaster.
Either the 35-year-old, who has stated that this is his final World Cup, bows out by confirming his immortality and definitively settling the debate over the greatest player in history, or he will lose a second final, resulting in an epic tragedy and a lifetime of what-ifs.
And Mbappe’s presence on the opposing team only raises the stakes..
To be part of France’s talisman’s first World Cup-winning team since Brazil in 1962 would elevate him to one of the game’s all-time greats while compounding Messi’s own sense of loss.
Given the World Cup’s highly problematic nature, it is significant that Qatar can lay claim to such compelling narratives and drama, demonstrating the effectiveness and insidiousness of sportswashing. In terms of pure sporting spectacle, this World Cup is one of the best, risking to overshadow the finals’ unjustifiable human and environmental costs..
There is a lot going on in the world and in the world of the world..
But, when the spotlight shifts elsewhere, the legend of Sunday’s final will live on. A battle between the game’s two biggest stars and icons will undoubtedly go a long way toward justifying their $220 billion investment.
Neither player will forget France’s 4-3 win over Argentina in the last-16 four years ago, when Mbappe made his mark on the world with a brilliant double — the first teenager to score twice in a World Cup match since Pele.
Messi was the first player out of the tunnel in Kazan that night, his World Cup dreams in tatters. Now comes the choice of vengeance or redemption. Messi and Mbappe enter the game competing for the Golden Boot and Golden Ball..
In last night’s semi-final loss to France, Morocco provided Argentina with a compelling blueprint for managing Mbappe by refusing to manage him at all. Instead, Walid Regragui’s side executed a more effective version of England’s quarter-final game plan by exploiting the space behind Mbappe, who was delightfully uninterested in assisting his full-back, Theo Hernandez.
The excellent Hakim Ziyech and Achraf Hakimi outnumbered Hernandez, who opened the scoring in the fifth minute, time and again until Didier Deschamps replaced Oliver Giroud with Marcus Thuram and moved Mbappe to center-forward.
A close final is likely to be decided by a flash of inspiration, and Messi and Mbappe’s brilliance could be the difference.
On Sunday, France are expected to welcome back midfielder Adrien Rabiot, who missed last night’s game due to illness, and the midfielder should provide more cover for Hernandez than his replacement, Youssouf Fofana. However, Morocco have exposed a weakness that will provide encouragement to Messi, who will shift to the right flank.
Mbappe, on the other hand, could not be overshadowed indefinitely, and his deflected shot fell into the path of substitute Randal Kolo Muani, who tapped home 44 seconds after his introduction to finally break Moroccan hearts after a remarkable performance by the first African side at this stage.
France, like Argentina in their semi-final against Croatia, lost possession but never panicked..
Given the nature of the two teams, a close final is even more likely to be decided by a flash of brilliance, and Messi and Mbappe’s brilliance could be the difference between winning and losing. Qatar will believe that they have already won..
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