This was not the final that many expected when the World Cup began nearly a month ago, with France decimated by injuries and Argentina losing to Saudi Arabia in its opener. Yet here we are, with the defending champions and Lionel Messi and company emerging as the tournament’s class as both chase history.
If Argentina wins, it will complete Messi’s long list of accomplishments. If France wins, it will be the first defending champion to win a second World Cup since Brazil in 1962, and Kylian Mbappé, at 23, will be the youngest player to win two World Cups since a 21-year-old Pelé.
So, how does each team triumph? Here are three essentials for both:
After the 83rd minute, the Netherlands scored two goals, one in the final minute of stoppage time, to force extra time and then a penalty shootout. Argentina did not make the same mistake against Croatia, capitalising on its early chances – a Messi penalty in the 34th minute, followed five minutes later by the first goal of Julian Alvarez’s brace – and refusing to give Croatia any breathing room.
France has a habit of disappearing for long periods of time during games, and if that happens in the final, the Albiceleste must strike quickly. Pour it on so that a late comeback, if one exists, is irrelevant.
Forget about what’s at stake.
Messi is desperate to win a World Cup, and his teammates and coach are equally eager to assist him. They must put that out of their minds, or they will be unable to play with the ease and flow that they have displayed since their loss to Saudi Arabia.
Messi has been incredible this tournament – watch him spin Josko Gvardiol around to set up Alvarez’s second goal against Croatia – and his teammates, especially the young ones, have benefited from it.
“Argentina has grown in confidence as a result of Messi’s brilliant performances,” Morocco coach Walid Regragui said after his team’s semifinal loss to France.
Play freely, without regard for what a win means, and Messi’s legacy will take care of itself.
France’s young star, like Messi, has an otherworldly ability to create space where there is none, cut through defences, and do things with the ball that cats can’t. Morocco’s players are still muttering about his run that led to France’s insurance goal somewhere.
Argentina’s defence must close the flanks and channel Mbappé through the middle. He can still cause significant damage, but not nearly as much as when he has free range outside, allowing Argentina to put more numbers on him.