Argentina and France are set to put it all on the line in a high stakes FIFA World Cup final tomorrow morning.
The Qatar World Cup culminates tomorrow morning at 4am in a star-studded final between Argentina and France at the Lusail Stadium, north of Doha.
With history on the line for France and Argentina in with the chance to cement the legacy of one of the greatest footballers of all-time, the final is set for a compelling narrative.
France will be competing in their fourth final, with all four appearances coming since 1998.
The French have won the World Cup twice previously, having won the 1998 World Cup in their home nation and also the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Les Bleus are in the running to join an illustrious group of nations to win consecutive World Cup titles with only two nations having previously achieved this feat – Italy (1934 and 1938) and Brazil (1958 and 1962).
Argentina are competing in their sixth World Cup final, with only Germany participating in more. The South American nation has won the trophy twice before, in both 1978 and 1986.
In 12 international matches played between the two sides, Argentina have won six while France have three victories with another three matches ending in a draw.
If Argentina fall to France, they will equal Germany’s record of the country with the most losses in the World Cup final (four losses).
Path to the Final
After suffering a major upset in their opening game against Saudi Arabia, Argentina have dragged themselves to the World Cup Final.
In what he says will be his final World Cup, legendary Argentina captain Lionel Messi has embarked on a fairy tale run to secure his first victory in the illustrious tournament.
The 35-year-old has won almost everything he could possibly win across a glittering career, however, the World Cup remains one of the last awards missing from his trophy cabinet.
Appearing at five FIFA World Cups, the closest the Argentine talisman has come to achieving glory came in the 2014 final, when his side narrowly lost to Germany.
La Albiceleste have managed to progress through knockout matches against Australia, the Netherlands and Croatia to keep the nation’s dream of winning the World Cup in Messi’s final attempt well and truly alive.
Predictably, Messi has proven to be the focal point of Argentina’s approach with the captain often acting as the driving force of the team.
In tomorrow’s final Messi is set to play his 25th World Cup match, breaking Germany legend Lothar Matthaus’ record for the highest number of appearances at the World Cup
Starring alongside Messi in Qatar, young forward Julian Alvarez has proven to be a capable strike partner, scoring four goals of his own.
Meanwhile, the midfield trio of Rodrigo De Paul, Alexis Mac Allister and Enzo Fernandez will look to produce yet another dogged performances, disrupting play and distributing the ball to keep the game ticking over.
Anchoring the defense, veteran Nicolas Otamendi has combined with Cristian Romero and a rotating cast of fullbacks to keep their side alive under attacking pressure.
Standing as the last line of defense, Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez will be relied upon in between the posts after producing some game-defining saves throughout the tournament.
If the final is to come down to penalties, it will be hard to bet against the Aston Villa keeper following his incredible shootout performance in the fiery semi-final against the Netherlands.
France’s journey to the final in Qatar has been spearheaded by the attacking output of their young superstar Kylian Mbappe and veteran striker Olivier Giroud.
While their attack has grabbed the headlines, the side’s defense led by Raphael Varane and Dayot Upamecano has played a vital role after bouncing back from a shaky group stage.
Their defensive solidity has provided a trustworthy backbone for France to rely on in their knockout wins against Poland, England and Morocco.
However, France coach Didier Deschamps could be forced to make a difficult selection for the final as illness has swept through his team, leaving the availability of key defenders including Varane in doubt.
Meanwhile, the midfield dynamism of Aurelien Tchouameni, Adrien Rabiot and recently converted forward Antoine Griezmann will be key to allowing the French side to control play.
In between the sticks, France captain Hugo Lloris will be hoping to continue his fine goalkeeping form as he hopes to become the first player to captain a team to two World Cup final victories.
Battle for the Golden Boot
Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi will have more than just the World Cup title to fight for in tomorrow morning’s match, with the Paris Saint-Germain clubmates sitting level in the Golden Boot standings on five goals.
The Golden Boot is awarded to the highest scoring player at the FIFA World Cup, previous winners include England’s Harry Kane at Russia 2018, Colombia’s James Rodriguez at Brazil 2014 and Germany’s Thomas Müller at South Africa 2010.
If the Golden Boot race ends in a draw the award is given to the player with the most assists, which means Messi is currently in the lead thanks to his three assists in Qatar.
At the age of just 23-years-old Mbappe has already scored nine goals across two World Cups, while Messi has 11 goals and eight assists in 25 World Cup appearances.
Both of the stars’ strike partners are in with a chance of snatching the top scorer’s award, with both Olivier Giroud and Julian Alvarez sitting one goal off the lead on four goals heading into the final.
Follow live coverage of the World Cup final on Monday morning starting before 4am with the RNZ live blog.