Watch: Messi and his boys train hard for third Fifa World Cup title

Argentina will meet defending champions France in Sunday's finals at Lusail Stadium in Doha


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Published: Sat 17 Dec 2022, 5:53 PM

Last updated: Sat 17 Dec 2022, 5:55 PM

It is now or never for Lionel Messi. All eyes will be on the legend as he trains with his team ahead of the Fifa World Cup final clash with France as he is set to inspire his country to the title on Sunday.

Can he finally, at the age of 35, win soccer’s biggest prize to secure his place alongside Pelé and Diego Maradona in the pantheon of the game’s greatest ever players?

Standing in his way is France, the defending champion, and Kylian Mbappé, the player best positioned to take over from Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as soccer’s marquee name.

That's if he hasn’t already.

Argentina is seeking a third World Cup title — after 1978 and 1986. It would end a 36-year wait for soccer's biggest prize, since Maradona's string of virtuoso performances in Mexico in 1986.

That made Maradona forever a hero in Argentina, and an icon around the soccer world. Messi now appears to be at that level — win or lose on Sunday when he'll play in a record 26th World Cup match.

Messi has evoked comparisons with Maradona in the way he has pushed Argentina to the final, scoring five goals, setting up three more and thrilling his team's legion of fans, who have poured into Qatar throughout the World Cup in numbers only really matched by those from Morocco.

In that sense, it will seem like a home game for Argentina, with France's supporters sure to be heavily outnumbered amid a sea of blue-and-white jerseys — many of which will have “MESSI 10” written on them.

It is hard to pick a winner.

Defending champions France are also aiming to win their third title having won it in 1998 and 2018.

Expect to see Mbappé and Messi walking around a lot during the game, not bothering to defend or press. That is in the script, rather than them being lazy. Part of the skill of Deschamps and Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni is their ability to forge a team that has learned to defend a man light.

As for Argentina, the team is largely set up simply to get the best out of Messi, with Scaloni likely to select a quartet of central midfielders like in the 3-0 win over Croatia in the semifinals.

They will scrap and press, and then give the ball to Messi to weave his magic. Or to Julián Álvarez, the striker who started the tournament as a backup for that unthinkable 2-1 opening loss to Saudi Arabia and now is undroppable with four goals to his name.

Álvarez is pinching himself that, at 22 and pretty much at the start of his career, he is the attacking foil for Messi at the great man's last World Cup.

Similarly, the tens of thousands of spectators inside the stadiums in Qatar, and the millions watching on television around the world, have continued to be amazed at the magic Messi keeps on delivering.

Anyone who isn’t French, or maybe a fervent fan of Ronaldo, is likely to be willing on Argentina's diminutive No. 10 in the biggest match of his career.

Eight years ago, Messi walked away from the 1-0 loss to Germany in the 2014 final with the Golden Ball award for the tournament’s best player.

This time, he'll want instead to be lifting another trophy, made of 18-carat solid gold, to cap a career like no other.


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