Can Lionel Messi win a World Cup with Argentina or will Kylian Mbappe help France win back-to-back tournaments?
Argentina face France in the final on Sunday (15:00 GMT) at the Lusail stadium.
Messi, 35, has won a record seven Ballon d’Or awards – given to the best player in the world – but has never won football’s biggest team award.
“People say France are favourites, but we have the advantage of having the greatest player of all time,” said Argentine goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.
“We always like to hear that the opponent is the favorite because we don’t feel superior or inferior to anyone.
“But, as I always say, we have the best player ever. And with a good defense, we have plenty of chances to achieve our goal.”
France coach Didier Deschamps led his country to World Cup victory in 1998 and then, as boss, guided them to another success in Russia four years ago.
He said: “I know Argentina, a lot of people around the world, and maybe French people, are hoping that Lionel Messi can win the World Cup, but we will do everything to achieve our goal.”
Can Messi help Argentina win the World Cup for the first time since 1986?
The final sees the tournament’s top two scorers go head-to-head in the race to win the Golden Boot. Messi and Mbappe have scored five times in Qatar, while Frenchman Olivier Giroud and Argentinian Julian Alvarez are one goal behind in four.
Messi helped Argentina reach the 2014 final in Brazil, although Germany’s Mario Gotze scored the only goal as the Europeans won 1-0 after extra time.
But the Paris St-Germain player has been the driving force behind Argentina’s campaign in Qatar.
He converted an early penalty in their opener before his country fell in a shock 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia and then scored in the vital 2-0 win over Mexico. Argentina’s 2-0 loss to Poland propelled them top of Group C, with Messi also on target in the 2-1 round of 16 win over Australia.
Argentina looked in control against the Netherlands in the quarter-finals as they led 2-0 after 82 minutes, but the Dutch scored twice through Wout Weghorst, including an equalizer in the 11th minute of added time for extend equality.
It eventually went to penalties, but Martinez saved two penalty kicks as Argentina advanced, before a goal from Messi and two from Manchester City’s Alvarez gave them a routine 3-0 victory against Croatia in the semi-finals.
Argentina have won the tournament twice, at home in 1978 and in Mexico in 1986, and are aiming for their third success on Sunday.
“I’m already moved because they gave their all with sincerity,” coach Lionel Scaloni said. “Hopefully we win the title and if that’s not possible they should be proud because it’s a moment to be savored.”
Disease virus hampers France’s preparations
Mbappe, 23, is continuing his second World Cup success and was instrumental in guiding France to the final. He scored once in their 4-1 win over Australia and twice in the 2-1 win over Denmark as France reached the round of 16 with one game to spare.
This allowed Deschamps to rest the players and, despite losing 1-0 to Tunisia, they won Group D, with Mbappe on target twice more in the 3-1 last-16 triumph over Poland.
In the quarter-finals, they faced Gareth Southgate’s England and took the lead through Aurélien Tchouameni, but Harry Kane equalized with a penalty. Olivier Giroud gave France the lead and they won 2-1 after Kane missed a second free kick.
France beat surprise tournament forfeits Morocco 2-0 in the semi-finals to reach their fourth World Cup final in seven tournaments, having won the competition in 1998 and 2018 and lost in the final in 2006.
But their preparations were hampered by a disease virus.
Midfielder Adrien Rabiot, defender Dayot Upamecano and winger Kingsley Coman are among those struggling with the disease.
“We had a few cases of flu-like symptoms,” Deschamps said. “We’re trying to be careful that it doesn’t spread and the players have tried very hard on the pitch and obviously their immune systems are suffering.
“We are taking all the necessary precautions, trying to make sure it doesn’t spread, but we had to take precautions against it.”
- They have already met three times in the World Cup. Argentina won both group matches in 1930 and 1978, but France won their only knockout encounter, winning 4-3 in the round of 16 in 2018.
- Argentina are playing in their sixth World Cup final, with only Germany (eight) taking part in more. They won in 1978 and 1986 and lost in 1930, 1990 and 2014.
- They could become the second team in World Cup history to lose their opening match and win the trophy, emulating Spain in 2010.
- Messi can become the third Argentine player to win the Golden Boot at the World Cup after Guillermo Stabile in 1930 and Mario Kempes in 1978.
- France have reached the World Cup final for the fourth time, all since 1998. That’s twice as many as any other nation in that time.
- Les Bleus are looking to become the third nation to win back-to-back World Cups, after Italy (1934-38) and Brazil (1958-62).