Friday, December 16, 2022

World Cup News: It’s Messi versus Mbappe

Argentina will face France in the World Cup final on Sunday. Lionel Messi will get one final chance to add a World Cup victory to his impressive resume and to deliver a third title to Argentina which would be the country’s first since 1986 when Diego Maradona led La Albiceleste to the championship. Messi’s PSG teammate Kylian Mbappe, meanwhile, will key France’s chances to become the first nation to win consecutive World Cups since Pele led Brazil in 1962. Fittingly, the two stars are level in leading the Golden Boot chase as they approach the final match. Depending on the results of their encounter, the two could become the first club teammates to finish 1-2 in World Cup goalscoring.

The final matchup shouldn’t be surprising, but Argentina needed to rebound from a shocking opening group stage defeat to Saudi Arabia. The Argentines won their remaining games, though overcoming a serious challenge from the Netherlands in a quarterfinal match which saw Messi and company relinquish a late two goal advantage before advancing on penalty kicks. A 3-0 semifinal win over Croatia featured a 34th minute penalty kick by Messi who then assisted on the second of two goals by Manchester City’s Julian Alvarez.

Alvarez’s brace continued a breakout tournament for the young forward who trails Messi and Mbappe by just a single goal in the Golden Boot chase. Other Premier League players such as Aston Villa goalkeeper Emi Martinez, Brighton midfielder Alexis Mac Allister and Manchester United defender Lisandro Martinez have all made their own contributions to Argentina’s run to the final.

France, meanwhile, made its way to the title by silencing the Atlas Lions of Morrocco in a 2-0 semifinal victory. The Moroccans had conceded only a single goal all tournament before France’s Theo Hernandez scored only five minutes into the semifinal encounter.

France then defended doggedly to clinch the win and its first clean sheet of this World Cup. A 79th minute goal by France’s Randal Kolo Muani sealed Morocco’s fate after a surprising and joyous run which saw the country become the first African side to advance to a World Cup semifinal. The Moroccans face Croatia in the third-place match on Saturday.

Sunday’s final will then feature the third and fourth ranked teams in the world with Messi and Mbappe leading dynamic attacks. A loaded French side has been getting goals from former Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud who, like Argentina’s Alavarez, has four goals to date, just one back of the leaders. Defenses which have had some shaky moments for both attacking oriented sides could contribute to some goal scoring excitement on Sunday to cap a tournament which has so far seen the fourth highest total goals among all participating nations in World Cup history. Two Premier League goalkeepers, Villa’s Marinez and Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Hugo Lloris will try to keep things under control. Lloris has improved through the tournament and had a massive save on a Moroccan bicycle attempt on goal in France’s Wednesday win. The French defense against Morocco was also bolstered by the play of Liverpool center back Ibrahima Konate who made his first start of the tournament. France defeated Argentina in the round of sixteen of the 2018 World Cup. Mbappe scored a brace in that game as the French would then march on to the championship. Lionel Messi will be trying for a different result on Sunday when he makes his likely final appearance on this stage. The match will establish the 35-year-old Messi as the man with the most career World Cup appearances. The 23-year-old Mbappe, meanwhile, will try to become the youngest player since Pele to accumulate two World Cup titles.  

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