After 62 matches, the final showdown in Qatar is set. Defending champions France have made their way back to the summit of soccer, only to find Lionel Messi’s Argentina squad at the top with them. Only one can claim the ultimate prize, planting their flag for all to see and sending the opposition back down the mountain, bitterly disappointed.
Though this year’s tournament brought plenty of upsets and excitement, the final will ultimately be played between two of the pre-tourney favorites. If you told me a month ago that Argentina would be playing France at the end of it all, I wouldn’t have questioned it. I admittedly didn’t expect the other two semi-finalists to be Croatia and Morocco, but the favorites ultimately won the day.
At this stage, there isn’t much more that can be said about the reigning champs. Even after losing Karim Benzema, Christopher Nkunku, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and others to injury before a ball was even kicked in Qatar, France’s unreal depth has not only kept them alive, it has helped them to thrive.
In the French midfield, Adrien Rabiot, Antoine Griezmann, and Aurelien Tchouameni have been nearly flawless. The combined workrate of these three is off the charts. Each of them is more than willing to cover the length of the field at a moment's notice and turn 50 yard sprints into ball recoveries and counterattacks. When they match up against Argentina’s Rodrigo De Paul, Alexis Mac Allister, and Enzo Fernandez on Sunday, the midfield battle will likely dictate the flow of the game.
While both teams boast solid backlines, it hasn’t necessarily been their defense that hasn’t gotten them this far. Hugo Lloris and Emiliano Martinez have been magnificent for their respective teams in goal, saving them from the brink of elimination on multiple occasions.
While a match can’t be won with a great defense alone, it can certainly be lost without solidarity in the back. With a trustworthy base behind them, the forwards for both squads will feel confident that they each have a chance to go and win the Cup for their nation.
I suppose it’s time to talk about the big story here: Messi v Mbappe. To many, this match symbolizes a potential changing of the guard. If Messi wins, he cements himself in the eyes of many as the greatest player of all time. Should Mbappe rise up and keep his PSG teammate from claiming the trophy, he would announce himself as the heir apparent to Messi’s throne.
There is more than glory at stake for these two men. The weight of legacy, legend, and the hopes of two great nations rest on the shoulders of these prized footballers. Only one can lift the trophy, only one can win the day.
As a big Messi fan myself, it’s hard for me to pick anything but an Argentina win this weekend. The narrative, the magic and the undeniable greatness of this Albiceleste team is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in this sport.
They kicked the tournament off with a shocking 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia, after which, many began to write them off. Messi-magic brought them back from the brink of elimination against Mexico before the supporting cast finally stepped up to beat Poland and top the group.
A momentary scare against Australia turned out to be nothing more than a blip, though plenty of drama would come. The Netherlands’ 2-goal comeback felt like curtains, but Emiliano Martinez rose up to save the day. Croatia’s defense once seemed impossible to break through, but Julian Alvarez proved otherwise.
Every step of the way, this Argentina side has dealt with adversity, intense scrutiny and immeasurable pressure to win. To this point, they’ve handled it all with poise and purpose, though things did get a bit spicy in the quarter-final. I have to back the Albiceleste to bring the trophy back to South America for the first time since Brazil won it in 2002. I’m expecting a 3-2 scoreline in Messi’s favor. VAMOS ARGENTINA!