This capital of the energy-rich thumb-shaped Gulf nation has often made you feel that you are in (cleaner) streets of Mumbai or Kochi as Indians tend to outnumber everyone else around. And for a month, a vast majority of them along with the 35,000 visiting Argentine fans have turned this place into a sacred tour of Lionel Messi. His face adores most billboards and the neon buildings that light up the evening skies and every second person in the streets wears a Leo Messi jersey (mostly fake), while the rest rummage through the stores in Mushareib, Souk Waqif, Wakrah or Lusail to pick the last few available ahead of Argentina’s final against France.
The Argentine captain has not disappointed his disciples as he has lighted up the tournament with a sprinkling of sorcery – the goal against Australia, the no-look pass to Nahuel Molina, or his toying of Croatian defender Josko Gvardiol in the semifinal. His greatness has been demonstrated throughout the tournament, but for Doha to build a permanent shrine for Messi, the final act of deliverance needs to arrive. A World Cup trophy from Lusail to truly establish his supremacy.
But France is chasing a record of its own – first back-to-back World titles since Pele and Garrincha’s Brazil of 1958 and ’62. And it, too, has a star in Kylian Mbappe, Messi’s PSG teammate and fellow contender for the tournament’s Golden Boot. Morocco tried and mostly succeeded in negating his threat by using right-back Acharf Hakimi’s pace and dribbling skills to trouble Theo Hernandez and break the chain of connection between the left-back and Mbappe.
But, Molina, Argentina’s right-back, is a few steps slower and might find it difficult to match the success of the Moroccan icon. A move to a back-three for extra protection against Mbappe might prove detrimental for Lionel Scaloni’s midfield balance and Argentina’s chances of attacking the still shaky full-backs of France. A 4-3-3 formation with a fit-again Angel Di Maria brought in to exploit the defensive weaknesses of Hernandez might be Argentina’s answer, while Alexis Mac Allister will play on the left and Rodrigo De Paul on the right with Enzo Fernandez, the only holding midfielder, looking to deal with Antonie Griezmann, the standout player for France.
- ⦿ The FIFA World Cup final has been contested between a South American team and a European team on ten previous occasions, with South America triumphing seven times. However, the three successes for Europe have come in the last five meetings.
- ⦿ Argentina is aiming to become the first South American nation to win the FIFA World Cup since Brazil in 2002.
- ⦿ Argentina is facing European opposition in the FIFA World Cup final for the fifth time, having previously encountered the Netherlands (1978) and West Germany/Germany (1986, 1990 and 2014).
- ⦿ Argentina lost 1-0 in its last two appearances in the FIFA World Cup final (1990 and 2014).
- ⦿ Argentina has scored 149 goals in FIFA World Cup matches and could become the third nation after Brazil (237) and Germany (232) to reach the landmark of 150.
- ⦿ Argentina has lost only one of its last 42 international matches (W29 D12).
- ⦿ Argentina has scored the first goal in each of its six matches at Qatar 2022.
- ⦿ Lionel Messi will overtake Lothar Matthäus (25) as the record appearance-maker in FIFA World Cup history if he plays in the final. France has now reached the final in four of the last seven editions of the FIFA World Cup.
- ⦿ France has been successful in two of its previous three appearances in the FIFA World Cup final and only lost out on penalties against Italy in 2006.
- ⦿ France is unbeaten in its last ten FIFA World Cup matches against South American nations (W6 D4). Its last defeat was against Argentina in 1978 (2-1).
- ⦿ France has remarkably kept eight clean sheets in its last nine FIFA World Cup matches against South American nations.
- ⦿ France is the first FIFA World Cup holders to reach the final since Brazil in 1998.
- ⦿ France has become the fifth team to win the FIFA World Cup and return to the final in the following edition after Italy (1934-1938), Brazil (1958-1962), Argentina (1986-1990) and Brazil (1994-1998).
- ⦿ France could become the third team to win two successive FIFA World Cups, following Italy (1934-1938) and Brazil (1958-1962).
- ⦿ France has been successful in 16 of its last 18 FIFA World Cup knockout ties (including one penalty shootout win).
- ⦿ France’s Hugo Lloris is set to become the first goalkeeper to reach 20 FIFA World Cup appearances.
- ⦿ Didier Deschamps is aiming to become only the second coach to win two FIFA World Cup titles, following Vittorio Pozzo who was successful with Italy in 1934 and 1938.
But with a largely immobile Messi, he has made 0.5 tackles on an average and has spent 5102m walking (Ivan Perisic is second with 4719m), a midfield three can end up offering too much space to Griezmann, who has made three assists and 3.5 key passes. Messi and Argentina, though, have found a tireless Julian Alvarez to do the running for the team’s luminous star, falling back to press whenever Argentina loses the ball.
For Didier Deschamps, there’s also the worry about a cold virus ravaging the camp. Dayot Upamecano missed the last game and now his excellent replacement Ibrahim Konate and the experienced Raphael Varane have missed training, casting doubts about their participation. France, which ceded 61 per cent possession to Morrocco, will continue to exploit its ability to hurt teams with quick transitions and has made the most direct attacks (23) in this World Cup, relying on the creativity and explosiveness of Ousman Dembele and Mbappe from the flanks.
Marcos Acuna, available after serving his suspension, is expected to be reinstated as the left-back ahead of Nicolas Tagliafico to negate the threat of Dembele from the right. Scaloni will look at the workman-like tactical flexibility, emotional aggression of his team and the decisiveness of Messi’s moments of magic to win this ultimate game against France.
Whoever wins – Messi or Mbappe, Argentina or France – the golden hues of the Lusail Stadium on the final Sunday of the 2022 World Cup can irrevocably establish its place as one of the iconic sporting venues of the world when history is created in its sweat-filled turfs.