The stage is set for an exhilarating, unpredictable intercontinental clash between two giants that will put the Iconic in Lusail Iconic Stadium on Sunday. The scales are evenly balanced before kick-off and could tip either way at any moment after the whistle of commencement is blown. It could turn out to be a fairytale finish for Messi in his final appearance at the grandest stage of world football, or it could be an evening that sees Mbappe become the youngest player after Pele to lift the golden trophy twice. Either way, history will be made before the curtains drop on the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar.
After huffing and puffing through the group stage fixtures and then the knock-out rounds, Argentina and France are one step away from the promised land. The two nations will face off against each other in the final of the FIFA World Cup 2022 at the Lusail Iconic Stadium in Qatar on Sunday, December 18. Both nations have won the coveted golden trophy twice in their history.
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Les Bleus have laid their hands on it more recently when they won the previous edition. La Albiceleste, on the other hand, last won the competition in 1986. After that, the Argentinians have reached the final twice but returned home with silver medals around their neck. This will be Lionel Messi’s final World Cup as he comes face-to-face with his Paris Saint-Germain teammate Kylian Mbappe.
The two sides have met at the World Cup on three occasions. The first meeting came in the very first edition of the FIFA World Cup in 1930. Argentina beat France 1-0 in the Group 1 encounter in Brazil. The second clash took place in the 1978 edition, during which La Albiceleste and Les Bleus were in Group 1 again, and the former was victorious again. This time, the final score was 2-1. The third and latest encounter between the two took place in the Round of 16 in the 2018 edition, where France finally ended their barren run against the Latin Americans with a thrilling 4-3 win.
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However, both sides will shut their history books on Sunday and focus entirely on the present, on the pitch.
After a shocking start to the campaign, Argentina recovered well to reach their first World Cup final since 2014. However, La Albiceleste will not be looking to replicate the result of that fateful day as they ended up on the losing side against Germany in that game. The last time the Argentinians went all the way was when they beat West Germany in the final of the tournament 36 years ago in Mexico. Before that, in 1978, La Albiceleste defeated the Dutch in a controversial final in their own backyard.
In this edition of the World Cup so far, Argentina have been quite impressive after their early hiccup against Saudi Arabia. In the last five games, La Albiceleste have won four games in regulation time and won one on penalties. In the last six games, Messi and co have scored 12 goals and conceded five. They have also kept three clean sheets, with the latest one coming in the semi-final against Croatia.
The Argentinians registered their biggest win of this World Cup against the Vatreni in the semi-final. It was the first time Lionel Scaloni’s men scored more than two goals in a game. Skipper Messi has led from the front and has recorded eight goal contributions, including five goals and three assists. His strike partner, Julian Alvarez, is also in fine form after nabbing his third and fourth goals of the campaign in the semi-final.
Rodrigo De Paul, Enzo Fernandez, and Alexis Mac Allister have cemented their places in midfield because of their consistent performances so far. On paper, they may not have goal contributions under their name, but the trio has been solid in the middle third. In defence, Nicolas Otamendi and Cristian Romero have formed a formidable partnership, and they are flanked by Nahuel Molina and Marcos Acuna, who will be back from suspension for the final.
As Argentina look strong on paper as well as pitch, France will be aiming to become the third nation after Italy and Brazil to successfully defend their world title. Italy won back-to-back titles in 1934 and 1938 before Brazil won in 1958 and retained it in 1962. Les Bleus lifted the trophy four years ago after beating Croatia in the final. This time, they are up against a stronger side whose skipper intends to wrap his hands around the World Cup trophy before he hangs up his boots in the showpiece tournament.
Just like Argentina, France have also lost just once in the tournament so far, and that loss came against Tunisia in the final round of group stage fixtures, during which the defending champions had fielded a second-string side. Apart from that, the French have been unstoppable. They have scored 13 goals and conceded five. The only cleansheet for France has come in the semi-final match against Morocco, where they won 2-0.
Out of the 13 goals scored by France so far, nine have come from Olivier Giroud and Mbappe. Despite relying on their two main attackers for goals, the semi-final win saw goals coming from two unlikely sources — Theo Hernandez and Randal Kolo Muani. Theo has been a pivotal player for France in this competition. The left-back was all set to warm the bench in this tournament but had to come on to replace his brother Lucas Hernandez in the first game of the World Cup.
Operating as a full-back, Theo has two assists and one goal under his belt. On the opposite flank, Benjamin Pavard has been replaced by Joules Kounde. In the heart of defence is the duo of Raphael Varane and Ibrahima Konate. Dayot Upamecano may not be fit enough to start. In the midfield, Adrien Rabiot missed the last game due to illness and could return to midfield in the final alongside Aurelien Tchouameni, while Antoine Griezmann will operate in front of them.
Team News: Reports suggest that a few players in the French squad have been afflicted by the flu. Dayot Upamecano and Adrien Rabiot missed the last game due to illness. Both players may return to the squad for the final. Meanwhile, Argentina could only be without Alejandro Gomez who is struggling with an ankle injury.
Form Guide: (Last five matches, most recent first)
Argentina: W - D - W - W - W
France: W - W - W - L - W
Games Played: 12
Argentina Wins: 6
France Wins: 3
Betting Odds: (Bet365)
Argentina Possible Starting 11 (3-5-2): E. Martinez; Romero, Otamendi, Li. Martinez; Molina, De Paul, Fernandez, Allister, Acuna; Alvarez, Messi.
France Possible Starting 11 (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Kounde, Varane, Konate, T. Hernandez; Tchouameni, Rabiot; Dembele, Griezmann, Mbappe; Giroud.
Argentina 1 - 1 France (Argentina winning 5-4 on penalties)
Where to watch and match timing: The match will kick off at 8.30pm IST on Sunday, December 18, and will be beamed live on Sports18 and Sports18 HD. Fans can also stream the action online on JioCinema’s official website.
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