Messi vs Maradona: The numbers at the World Cup
Messi and Maradona, ‘La Pulga’ and ‘El Pelusa’, two football stars who have marked an era in the world’s most prestigious competition. Check out their World Cup numbers.
Argentina vs France: Line-ups
All Eyes on Messi
No Paul Pogba? No N’Golo Kante? No Karim Benzema, the reigning Ballon d’Or winner? No problem for Didier Deschamps. The World Cup-winning player and manager – one of only three men with such a title on their CV – was even asked about the prospect of bringing Benzema back for the final following his recovery from a thigh injury, but his exhausted sigh and refusal to answer the question was that of a man who only has eyes for his present protagonists.
After preventing football from coming home to England, France faced a true test of their mettle against the first-ever African team to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup, and they were certainly given a couple of scares against a Morocco side roared on by their ever-vociferous support.
Finally managing to keep a first clean sheet of the tournament is exactly what the doctor ordered for Deschamps’s men before they contest a fourth World Cup final, and they now endeavour to follow in the footsteps of Italy and Brazil as just the third nation to ever win back-to-back World Cups.
Not since the 1978 group stage have the 1998 and 2018 winners suffered defeat of any kind to a South American nation in the globe’s premier competition, although that was against Argentina, and football will take centre stage for another 90 or 120 minutes at Lusail before the inquest begins.
Fans will fondly look back on the Qatar tournament for its perennial ability to produce shock after shock, with the likes of Morocco and Japan capturing the hearts of the neutrals. However, the exigent issues surrounding migrant worker deaths, treament of the LGBT community and other human rights concerns means that a thick black cloud will forever overshadow a competition that even Sepp Blatter admitted should not have gone to the Gulf state in the first place.
Mbappe vs. Messi. Fernandez vs. Tchouameni. Griezmann vs. Mac Allister. Countless individual battles should decide the destiny of the World Cup in a final where goals are surely a guarantee. Deschamps’s illness-affected men have rarely managed to find that perfect defensive formula in Qatar and could very well have come out on the wrong end of the scoreline against Morocco on another day, but their penchant for rapid-fire counter-attacks should come to the fore regardless. However, an Argentina side that have only failed to score more than once against Saudi Arabia can expose Les Bleus’ rearguard shortcomings and channel their own defensive acumen in equal measure. Fairytale endings are never a guarantee in football, but viewers around the world can finally expect to witness Messi with both hands on the 18-karat gold trophy.