The Blues and Albiceleste will seek a third planet star on Sunday 18 December (4pm) during a Messi-Mbappé summit on the back of a post-2018 reunion.
In the footballing galaxy, this Argentina-France final is a moment in history. As a great handover, this Sunday. Lionel Messi, Argentinian with seven Ballons d’Or, wants to win the only trophy he lacks at the age of 35 as French prodigy Kylian Mbappé aims for a second successive crown before his 24th birthday, like Brazil’s Pelé in 1962.
Euphoric, the Albiceleste sees thousands of fans flock to the emirate, many still looking for a ticket, between worry and anger. France, it is worried about its world champions, overtaken by a mysterious virus, which in turn has sidelined five potential holders.
In the mild December of Qatar, fever will spread on Sunday in the spans of the Lusail Stadium, a symbol of the excesses of the gas emirate targeted by extra-sporting controversies.
“It’s a 50/50 final”
“It’s a 50/50 final,” notes Mario Kempes, 1978 world champion with Argentina. 1998 French winner Youri Djorkaeff continues: “All the ingredients are there. The Argentine fans are incredible and then there is the grit, the quality, the heart, the effort, the panache of the Blues… When you take two teams and put them in a shaker, we get the perfect cocktail.”
The “cocktail” is non-alcoholic – sales are strictly regulated in Qatar – but not tasteless: the Mbappé-Messi duel alone makes fans of sports, history and statistics salivate.
The two superstars, who join forces under the Qatari banner in Paris SG, share the lead in the pre-final World Cup goalscoring rankings by five units. The winner goes straight to the Ballon d’Or, the first to Mbappé or an eighth to Messi, a planetary idol supported on Sunday by a large majority of supporters.
“They are a passionate people, they are fully behind their team. It creates a festive, positive atmosphere”, but “our opponents will be on the pitch, not in the stands”, says Deschamps, captain of the first star in 1998, and training for the second in 2018 in Russia.
The calm Raphaël Varane, the unsinkable Olivier Giroud and the indestructible Lloris
Knocked out in the round of 16 from Euro 2021, deprived of half a dozen injured leaders in Qatar, including Karim Benzema, and now weakened by this virus, the Blues are survivors before they find Argentina, who they beat 4-3 in the round of 16 of 2018 – edition.
“You must be ready to suffer, to make an effort, to surpass yourself in spite of fatigue, in spite of the sequence, in spite of the circumstances”, launches captain Hugo Lloris, in search of another title as captain, a feat without precedent.
In adversity, a guide appeared, Antoine Griezmann, former striker reinvented as a “little prince” of the middle, ready for all sacrifices and all suffering for his long-time partners, the calm Raphaël Varane, the unsinkable Olivier Giroud and indestructible Lloris.
‘Last chance’ for Messi
Opposite is “Messimania”. To preside over the table of Argentine legends, with the late Diego Maradona, crowned in 1986, at his side, “La Pulga” only needs this ultimate trophy: “He knows it’s his last chance”, emphasizes Pablo Zabaleta, his partner at WC 2014.
Unlike his first lost final that year after extra time against Germany (1-0), Messi seems surrounded in Qatar by a colony of warriors, from Leandro Paredes to Nicolas Otamendi, via Julian Alvarez, offensive revelation (4 goals).
Will he know the glory of “Pibe de Oro”? Or will he emerge between tears and loneliness, like Cristiano Ronaldo, his second legend of the century? ‘Leo’ Messi has part of the answer. France and Mbappé have each other.
How Argentina and France qualified
– 1ST ROUND
ARGENTINA – Saudi Arabia 1-2, Messi (10th sp);
ARGENTINA – Mexico 2-0 (November 26), Messi (64th) and Fernandez (87th); ARGENTINA – Poland 2-0, Mac Allister (46th) and Alvarez (67th).
– 8TH OF FINALS
ARGENTINA – Australia 2-1, Messi (35th) and Alvarez (57th).
ARGENTINA – Netherlands 2-2 after extra time, 4-3 loss, Molina (35th) and Messi (73rd sp).
ARGENTINA – Croatia 3-0, Messi (34th sp), Alvarez (39th, 69th).
– 1ST ROUND
FRANCE – Australia 4-1, Rabiot (27th), Giroud (32nd, 71st) and Mbappé (68th);
FRANCE – Denmark 2-1, Mbappé (61st, 86th);
FRANCE – Tunisia 0-1.
– 8TH OF FINALS
FRANCE – Poland 3-1, Giroud (44th) and Mbappé (74th, 90th+1).
FRANCE – England 2-1, Tchouameni (17th) and Giroud (78th).
FRANCE – Morocco 2-0, T. Hernandez (5th) and Kolo Muani (79th).