Argentina v France
This is it. Argentina have returned to the World Cup final, where France lie in wait in what promises to be a spectacular deciding match in Qatar. Both teams have been in fine form throughout the tournament and there is very little to choose between either of them on Sunday.
Neither are strangers to matches of this magnitude. In 2014 Lionel Messi came agonisingly close to lifting the trophy ultimately missing out in the final to an extra-time goal from Germany’s Mario Gotze. Then, four years down the line, France powered to victory in Russia 2018 thanks in large part to the emergence of teenage superstar Kylian Mbappe. Along the way they also ended Argentina’s World Cup dream, prevailing in a thrilling 4-3 last-16 victory.Argentina have come a long way since that chaotic reverse and are a stronger, more balanced team across the pitch, while Messi, one of the few survivors from 2018, is enjoying what is arguably the best yet of his five World Cups. The Albiceleste captain has notched five goals and three assists to rival Mbappe as both top scorer so far and player of the tournament, with Sunday’s final likely to be key in the final decision over the destination of the coveted Golden Ball.
France are potentially only 90 minutes away from becoming the first nation to defend the World Cup in 60 years.
Les Bleus’ brand of pragmatism and individualism has led them through to a showpiece match against Argentina, a side that they dismissed 4-3 in a spectacular match en route to the final in Russia four years ago. That was seen as a landmark game in Kylian Mbappe’s career, with the PSG man creating one then scoring two in a memorable encounter.
That was also the last time that France met Argentina and is one of just three all-time victories they have achieved against the South Americans in 12 previous meetings. It is worth, though, bearing in mind that only three of these have come since 1986.Of more concern to head coach Didier Deschamps than history is a virus in the France camp. It forced his hand in the semi-finals against Morocco, with Adrien Rabiot and Dayot Upamecano both dropped after suffering from it, while Randal Kolo Muani was picked ahead of Kingsley Coman from the bench.
The silver lining was the Kolo Muani scored 45 seconds after coming on, making it the quickest goal by a replacement in World Cup history, but the consequences are ongoing. Raphael Varane and Ibrahima Konate, who both started against Morocco, have been struck with the illness and have missed some training.
Deschamps, a master pragmatist who was happy to surrender possession to Morocco in the semis, has always managed to find solutions in the clutch situations in the past, yet on Sunday he faces arguably his greatest test yet.
But the superstars have not done it on their own, both being ably supported by strong and, in certain cases, surprising supporting actors that have shined this past month in Qatar. For that reason the final is almost too close to call and may well need more than the initial 90 minutes to finally pick a winner.
If one factor can explain Argentina’s improvement in the 2022 World Cup over recent editions, it is the emergence of Manchester City star Julian Alvarez.
In his first tournament (and with barely 10 caps to his name prior to November) the 22-year-old has raced to four goals, putting him just behind Messi and Mbappe as the top scorers in Qatar. Perhaps most interesting, though, has been the timing of his strikes.
Three of those four have come as Argentina’s last goal of the game, extending the lead and putting them in an even stronger position. That is no coincidence: the rapid 22-year-old loves taking advantage of tired legs and powering past his marker in the final minutes, and a similar strike to finish off France would place his name in Albiceleste World Cup folklore.
Kylian Mbappe is in the midst of a very unusual run. In neither of his last two matches against Morocco or England has he mustered a single shot on target. Underlining how unusual this is for him, prior to these games, he had registered at least one in every game he had played this season, even if it was as a brief replacement.
In 10 of his 12 outings before the England match, he had managed multiple shots on target, including three against Maccabi Haifa for PSG, plus four and three against Denmark and Poland respectively for France in Qatar. It seems inconceivable that he will be caged up successfully once more, particularly with his track record of coming to the fore in big matches. He is 4.0 to have at least one shot on target in each half.
Argentina will not have things all their own way of course. Mbappe caused uproar in the nation’s backline four years ago and, while they have improved since then, so has the young striker, making the job of stopping him one of the utmost importance.
That is where Molina comes in. He has been primarily noted for his attacking ability at this World Cup, but also shined against both Netherlands and Croatia, while boasting the cleanest disciplinary record of any of Argentina’s starting defenders.
Mbappe, however, will be a different prospect, and lining up against him the Atletico right-back may well be forced to employ some of the dark arts more than once to stop PSG’s ace from getting the upper hand.
The full-back areas are positions that Argentina could look to target. France are not the most robust down either flank, with Theo Hernandez better going forward than defending on the left and Jules Kounde more comfortable playing in a central role. Indeed, it has been notable across Argentina’s games in this competition that the opposing left-back area is the one where they have consistently won a high number of free kicks.
This is likely to see Theo put under pressure. He showed against England, when he gave away two fouls, that when he is tested defensively, he can be vulnerable to giving free kicks away. Indeed, he has committed at least one foul in four of his last six matches in all competitions. With his fiery personality and high field positioning, which can leave him exposed to being the target of breaks, this game is set up for him to make a couple of misjudgements in tackles.
Written by an Andy verified content writer
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