The greatest exhibition of football will draw to a close with the summit clash between Argentina and France. Both teams have stepped up when it has mattered and have deservedly reached the finals of the tournament. As Didier Deschamps and France aim to do a 1962 Brazil, Lionel Scaloni’s Argentina stand in the way.
Argentina have been excellent in the competition and have gone from strength to strength in the knockout stages. Beginning with an eventually nervy 2-1 win against Australia, Scaloni’s side knocked the Netherlands out in the quarters on penalties, after a Lionel Messi masterclass put them 2-0 up in normal time. The maestro was outstanding against Croatia in the semifinals, where the Albiceleste walked away with a convincing 3-0 win. Julian Alvarez has also shone in the tournament, scoring four goals, including a brace in the semis.
With the exception of one game against Tunisia in the group stages, where Deschamps tested his bench strength after securing qualification in the first two games, France have been fantastic in the competition thus far and have played what is very near to a perfect tournament. Although they have not visually been the best team by any stretch of the imagination, Les Bleus have produced the goods when asked of them.
Rarely can a football game be discussed without mentioning how important the great Lionel Messi will be to the outcome. As he has been for almost 20 years, the Argentine legend is the bright spot for his team. The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner had a strong start to the season with PSG and has improved with Argentina during this World Cup, scoring five goals and dishing out three assists thus far. The Paris Saint-Germain starlwart hold the joint-top spot for goal contributions in the World Cup.
Argentina have been impressive in the knockout stages of the tournament, with some gritty wins against Australia and the Netherlands. Their best performance thus far came against Croatia in the semifinals as Scaloni’s men appear to have gone from strength to strength. Messi is in superb touch, scoring a goal and an assist in the semifinal game, as he did in the quarters as well. In addition, the little magician performed flawlessly in the pressure of the shootout against Holland. Argentina will be hoping for another brilliant performance from Messi against France as Argentina chase the ultimate success.
During their 2021 Copa America win, Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez was one of Scaloni’s finest performers. He provided Argentina with some much-needed goalkeeping steadiness after a succession of players who underperformed. The custodian has also performed admirably at this competition, as evidenced by his stellar display in the Albiceleste’s victory over the Netherlands in the quarterfinals. Argentina will play the reigning champions, and another solid performance will be expected of Martinez as Argentina chase unrivalled glory.
PSG striker Kylian Mbappe has been in excellent form over the last several seasons, and his performances with his country’s team have kept up. He has demonstrated a drive to reach the top on this time as well, despite having won the World Cup four years ago, with an outstanding performance thus far in the competition. With five goals and two assists in the competition, the attacker poses a serious threat to every club because of his exceptional goal-scoring instincts and natural talent. Even with the ball at his feet, Mbappe is alarmingly quick, and he could put that to good use in the all-important summit clash.
With some outstanding performances during the World Cup, Atletico Madrid star Antoine Griezmann has rediscovered his form. Griezmann, one of Deschamps’ best players during their triumphant campaign in 2018, has been crucial once again, producing six big chances at the grandest stage of them all. He has led the French attacking play and has registered four assists in the tournament. The Argentinian defence will have their minds focussed on his vision in addition to his talent for making superb passes.
Nothing can perhaps be more difficult than choosing a favourite for the final of the biggest sporting event in the world, where the two best teams lock horns. Both France and Argentina have shown the calibre to produce what it takes and are both equipped with extremely talented squads as well. The game could go either way, but Argentina will start as slight favourites.