Small details to determine the World Cup final between Argentina Messi and France Mbappe
Soccer’s World Cup Qatar has seen an increase in playing time, but Sunday’s climax between France and Argentina is likely to be determined in individual moments – those small details at Lusail Stadium – such as shredding a defense led by Kylian Mbappe or a defensive pass from Lionel Messi.
It will depend largely on that moment of brilliance as both defending champions France and rivals Argentina are so similar. Both try to keep their form and sit behind the ball, neither of them looking to gain possession of the ball.
You only have to look at the semi-finals because both teams had only 39 percent of the possession of Morocco and Croatia respectively.
However, they emerged as winners thanks to their ruthless efficiency in those moments when they needed it most. For France, Mbappe’s quick feet saw them finish off Morocco in the end, while for Argentina, it was Messi’s magic that struck Croatia.
“Both France and Argentina are similar in approach,” Juergen Klinsmann, a World Cup winner with Germany in 1990, told reporters at a news conference of FIFA’s Technical Study Group on Saturday.
“They have such tremendous speed because of the individual quality and it’s a great final that makes us wonder which side will come to score the first goal but at first we think they will try to neutralize each other in midfield,” he said.
Arsene Wenger, FIFA’s head of global football development who heads the technical study group, agreed, before adding: “Mbappe lags well behind defenders while Messi receives the ball behind midfield.”
From their respective locations, the duo will be looking to inspire their side.
The battle between the two superstars of Paris Saint-Germain – the club de facto owned by the Qatari state – for glory remains the central discussion of the final coming on the hosts’ national day, December 18.
For all the controversy surrounding the issues surrounding the first Arab World Cup host in the run-up to the tournament, this is the perfect ending. No matter who wins on and off the field, Qatar will be the big winner.
The three-day gap between the semi-finals and final – which felt like an eternity in the busiest 32-team World Cup ever as matches became thick and fast – the debate between Messi and Mbappe took center stage.
“Messi and Mbappe made the difference in the semi-finals,” esteemed Italian coach Fabio Capello told reporters during the Legends Cup, a side tournament organized by FIFA during the days between the semi-finals and the final.
“Mbappe decisively reached close to goal on two occasions and his shots resulted in two deflections from where the goals came from. Messi had a great game against Croatia and he is back being Messi. They are the ones who will be important and it will be difficult for both of them to win it.”
Both Messi and Mbappe have their reasons for fighting for the World Cup.
In his career winning every single silver coin, the game’s biggest prize is still missing from Messi’s collection. At the age of 35, this is – by his own admission – his last chance to step out of the overbearing shadow of Diego Maradona, who threw the last World Cup for Argentina a year before Messi was born.
For the extraordinary Mbappe, Sunday’s victory will become only the second player after legend Pele to be crowned two-time world champion before his 24th birthday, which falls on Tuesday (20 December).
“Messi can decide games from every part of the field, while Mbappe plays further from the field, but he can do magical things,” former Netherlands international midfielder Clarence Seedorf told reporters at the Legends Cup.
“There is the factor of Messi playing in the last World Cup – his last chance to win a title that many feel he deserves. But France played very well and I think it will be a very competitive final, a technical match with a lot of pressure and intensity.”
There will also be a lot more to play this time around than before. At FIFA’s closing press conference on Friday, a point was made that with referees adding more time at the end to pauses during a match, playing time – effectively the time the ball rolls – was only in these World Cup matches. It stayed less than 60 minutes.
However, the deciding factor in those tackles can be found in split-seconds, trick shots, key passes or subtle moves. It can also come down to goalkeepers. A moment of miscalculation can be fatal in the finale.
Former Germany goalkeeper Jens Lehmann said: “As a goalkeeper you have to be perfect” Dawn.com in the Legends Cup. “Emiliano Martinez (from Argentina) is having a really good tournament. (French) Hugo Lloris had a great game against Morocco but for me, Martinez is more complete.”
Small details go into getting the right tactics and formations, too.
While Argentina’s Lionel Scaloni has a team that rally around Messi and entered the World Cup after a 36-game unbeaten streak, France coach Didier Deschamps has patched his squad despite the absence of key midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante as well. Star striker Karim Benzema injured.
“Didier has always created the team,” said Christian Karembeu, a member of the 1998 World Cup-winning France team alongside Deschamps.
“We are a competitive team with a young generation of players who have done really well. Midfielders like Aurelien Choamene and Adrien Rabiot have come in and been essential to balance the midfield.”
If France wins, Deschamps will become the second man after Italy’s Vittorio Pozzo to win two consecutive World Cups as a coach.
While Mbappe and Messi have grabbed the limelight, there is a slight frame from Hariri, Antoine Griezmann, who could be just as important, having smoothly adapted to his new midfield role with the French national team.
“It was amazing,” Karembeu said. “I think everyone is surprised but when he was young he could play as a number 10, as a number eight and the new position he has is this free role where he can give us what we need.”
When these two sides last met in the World Cup – four years ago in the round of 16 in Russia – Mbappe outpaced Argentina with his pace as France won a chaotic match 4-3.
His announcement was on the world stage, but Sunday could be his coronation as the best player in the world at this time.
Messi is looking to go one step further than he did in 2014 when Argentina lost the final to Germany in Brazil.
The pressure in that match was so great that Messi even threw the Maracanã. The World Cup title is his legacy and he will do his best to perform better at Lusail. After all, all he needed was just that moment to change things.
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