After a long four-and-a-half years, the FIFA World Cup Final is finally here.
South American giants Argentina and defending champions France go head-to-head for the 13th time in their football history on Sunday in one of the most anticipated events on the global sporting calendar.
It has been 36 years since Argentina brought the coveted World Cup trophy home. Since then, La Albiceleste has come close to winning it again but has never quite got there, most recently in the 2014 World Cup Final loss to Germany.
With this golden chance ahead, Argentina will lay everything on the line to win the title, which will not only end their World Cup drought but also see Lionel Messi lift the World Cup trophy.
After winning it all in 2018, France has made an impressive run to reach a second consecutive final despite losing many players to injuries before and during the tournament. With a next-man-up mentality and the resurgence of players like Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann, Les Bleus march on with the chance of winning back-to-back World Cup titles, an incredible feat that was last accomplished by Pele and Brazil in 1958 and 1962.
Argentina Key Player: Lionel Messi
Match after match, Lionel Messi has proven to the world that age is just a number. At 35, Messi has been dominating the competition, posting a tournament-leading 97.0 dribbling grade, an 80.9 shooting grade, and an 81.8 passing grade.
That’s not all. As the focal point of Argentina’s attack, he also created 21 chances and is tied with PSG teammate for the tournament lead in goals with five.
Going into the final, he leads the World Cup with four unsavable goals, 14 completed through-balls and is second overall with 33 possessions in the opposition’s penalty box. He is no doubt the greatest threat to the French side and will be relied upon for one last world-class performance.
As announced by the player himself, Sunday’s final will be the last World Cup match of Lionel Messi’s career. So, sit back and enjoy the show as the Argentina legend surpasses the World Cup match appearance record (26) and graces the World Cup stage one last time.
France Key Player: Antoine Griezmann
All eyes will be on PSG superstar Kylian Mbappé, but Griezmann has been the player to watch in this tournament and is arguably the most valuable player for Les Bleus.
What makes the Atletico Madrid player stand out is his huge impact on both sides of the pitch. With a passing grade of 89.5 (ranked sixth overall) and a crossing grade of 83.7 (fifth), Griezmann has created 20 chances so far for his teammates, the second-best mark of the tournament.
He’ll be a massive problem for the Argentinian defense, as he looks to disrupt play with an overall 81.4 challenge grade (fifth among both teams) along with grades above 80.0 for aerial duels, 50/50 duels and tackles. He's also racked up 273 successful pressures, second in the tournament, and a team-leading three blocked shots.
Matchup to watch: What will each defense have to look out for in the World Cup final?
With both countries boasting lethal attacking potential, both sides will have to be sharp defensively.
Mbappé will undoubtedly be a looming presence in the final third with his 81.2 shooting grade and World Cup-leading 52 possessions in the opposition’s box. However, one area Argentina’s defense will have to be careful of is France’s crossing. Pairing Griezmann’s (83.7) and Dembele’s (78.8) top-20 crossing grades with Giroud’s tournament-leading 93.2 aerial-duel grade, France has scored five of their 13 World Cup goals from headers targeted by crosses. This will be a challenging test for Argentina, who don’t have a player with an aerial-duel grade above 78.6.
Without a doubt, Messi will be the man to stop for Les Bleus. As Messi tries to create chances or score goals himself, France will have to collectively work together to keep the Argentina legend quiet. All their focus can’t be on Messi, though, as Man City striker Julian Alvarez is a dangerous threat in the box and boasts an 86.2 shooting grade and four goals recorded so far.
The French side will also have to keep an eye out for Enzo Fernandez, who has the second most completed line-breaking passes (34) among both teams.