Fifa World Cup: France stand between Messi and trophy

The Les Bleus came to Qatar with dreams of becoming only the third team after Italy and Brazil to defend the title

By Rituraj Borkakoty in Doha

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Published: Sun 18 Dec 2022, 4:37 AM

Last updated: Sun 18 Dec 2022, 5:00 AM

It’s been impossible not to find a group of people in Argentina colours anywhere in Doha. They are singing about Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi in the malls, buses and metro trains, drawing cheers from onlookers.

Even Italian football legend Roberto Baggio was pictured in a Doha Metro train in Argentina colours.

In complete contrast to the sheer size of support for Argentina ahead of tonight’s World Cup final, the French fans have been pushed into the smallest pockets of this country.

If public support alone can win you a World Cup, Argentina will beat France hands down on Sunday night at Lusail Iconic Stadium.

But it takes a solid team to win an event as big as the football World Cup. And this is where the French have the edge, notwithstanding the Messi factor.

A team that can reach the final without Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba, three of their biggest players, must be shown the utmost respect.

The Les Bleus came to Qatar with dreams of becoming only the third team after Italy and Brazil to defend the World Cup title.

The Garrincha-inspired Brazil were the last team to achieve this feat 60 years ago.

France will feel confident about their chances of making history. It’s not a team that depends solely on the speed and goals from Kylian Mbappe.

With support from a solid midfield run by the tireless Antoine Griezmann, the likes of Mbappe and Olivier Giroud can hurt their opponents in the blink of an eye.

After their shock exit from the round of 16 at the Euro last year that led to reports of infighting in the team, Didier Deschamps has used all his experience to put the team together in an attempt to win the World Cup again.

Having already won the World Cup as a captain (France 1998) and coach (Russia 2018), Deschamps is now on the cusp of making history.

If France win Sunday's final, Deschamps will become the only manager after Italy’s Vittorio Pozzo (1934 and 1938) to lift back-to-back World Cup titles.

Deschamps is not a man to be swayed by emotions. A tough-tackling defensive midfielder in his own playing career, Deschamps will have his plans tonight on negating the threat of Messi, who is hoping to end his Argentina career with the only trophy missing from his cabinet.

The wave of support for Messi has been mindboggling as even many Brazilians are now backing the magician to end Argentina’s 36-year drought for a World Cup triumph.

Without the speed and acceleration of his old days, Messi still has put up a memorable show in Qatar.

He is at the heart of every Argentina attack, inspiring their fightback after the shock defeat to Saudi Arabia in their opening game which ended their 36-match unbeaten run.

Now they have won five matches in a row to reach the final with Messi as the fulcrum.

But the South Americans also have Julian Alvarez and Enzo Fernandez, two preciously talented youngsters who have earned their places in Argentina’s starting eleven in the middle of a World Cup.

Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni, a former teammate of Messi who was coaching an amateur youth team until 2016, has proven every critic wrong by instilling self-belief in this Argentina team.

His team will now face a French side that will go into the final with the ruthless mindset of a cold-blooded murderer.

But Scaloni’s Argentina were also the underdogs when they faced Brazil in the Copa America final in Rio de Janeiro last year.

That match ended with Messi crying tears of joy for the first time in an Argentina shirt, having ended his drought for an international trophy.

But can this talismanic Argentine end his World Cup drought tonight in the middle of a desert?

The whole world faces a tantalising wait for the answer.


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