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FIFA World Cup 2022: Players to watch in the final

Lusail City, QATAR; Argentina forward Lionel Messi (10) in the quarterfinals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup at Lusail Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest sporting event in the world is finally here: the FIFA World Cup final. Even though we have seen quite a few surprises throughout the World Cup, two of the pre-tournament favorites, Argentina and France, will battle it out for the trophy.

Can France achieve the ambitious goal of defending their 2018 title? If so, they will join a short list of nations to do so: Italy (1934 and 1938) and Brazil (1958 and 1962). If Argentina manages to win, does Lionel Messi surpass Diego Maradona in terms of his overall legacy and impact on the sport? Let's look ahead to predict which players will shine in the final using PFF's extensive soccer data.

The model is trained on data from the big five European leagues: Premier League (England), La Liga (Spain), Bundesliga (Germany), Serie A (Italy) and Ligue 1 (France). It takes each player’s performance in his past four games into account to predict his average grade in the next game, both in terms of quantity (number of events) and quality (sum of grades).

PASSING: LIONEL MESSI, ARGENTINA & ANTOINE GRIEZMANN, FRANCE

Roughly 75% of all events that happen in a game are passes, which only serves to emphasize their importance. And during the final, two of the tournament’s best passers will face each other.

Antoine Griezmann is France's highest-graded passer, with an 89.5 PFF passing grade for his 259 passes. Although his weakest passing performance was in the semifinal against Morocco, the model predicts Griezmann to have the second-highest average passing grade in the final.

The highest average passing grade is expected to come from Argentina’s Lionel Messi, who currently has an 81.8 PFF passing grade for his 303 World Cup passes and is the only player to receive a plus-1.5 grade for a pass this tournament, which came on his assist to Nahuel Molina in the quarterfinal against The Netherlands.

SHOOTING: LIONEL MESSI, ARGENTINA & KYLIAN MBAPPÉ, FRANCE

It’s not just the trophy that’s on the line Sunday, but the final is likely to decide the Golden Boot race, as well. With five goals each, Paris Saint-Germain F.C. teammates Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé are just ahead of Julián Álvarez and Olivier Giroud (both having scored four goals). 

The model predicts Messi to have the highest average shooting grade in the final. The 35-year-old currently has an 80.9 PFF shooting grade for his 26 shots. Even though Mbappé has a higher overall PFF shooting grade (81.2), the model predicts a lower average shooting grade for the 23-year-old because his shot volume is lower (17 shots). 

Golden Boot Odds and Payouts | BetMGM
Player Odds Payout on $10 bet
Lionel Messi -135 $17.41
Kylian Mbappé +140 $24
Julián Álvarez +1400 $150
Olivier Giroud +1400 $150

CHALLENGES: NICOLÁS OTAMENDI, ARGENTINA & AURÉLIEN TCHOUAMÉNI, FRANCE

On the other side of the pitch, both Argentina and France have been putting on impressive defensive performances. Both teams have conceded less than one expected goal (xG) per 90 minutes, with Argentina having the lowest number of all 32 teams (only 0.27 xG conceded per 90 minutes).

One of France's key players when they don’t have the ball is Aurélien Tchouaméni. The Real Madrid youngster currently has the highest PFF grade on 50-50 duels (95.7) in the World Cup and has also been good in the air and on tackles (83.2 PFF aerial duel grade and 74.8 PFF challenge grade). He is predicted to have the highest average defensive grade in the final.

For Argentina, Nicolás Otamendi is predicted to have the highest average defensive grade. The 34-year-old center-back has not missed a single minute of the tournament and is among the center-backs who have received the fewest positioning downgrades. Otamendi is one of the first players that head coach Lionel Scaloni puts on his match sheet and will be a vital part of Argentina’s strategy to prevent the French from scoring.

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