It’s here. The world Cup final. Argentina against France, South America against Europe, Lionel Messi v Kylian Mbappe, even Diego Maradona v Messi for some. It’s not just a football match.
There’s an almost ubiquitous emotional involvement in the match wishing for just one man to lift that golden trophy. It’s Argentina v France but for many it’s more about the little magician. So, will Lionel Messi win the World Cup or will the French establish world dominance again?
It’s almost the dream final. No disrespect to Croatia in 2018 but this game is much more difficult to call. On the one hand you have an Argentine side that has fought tooth and nail to reach it. They’re like fierce warriors who are almost there yet bruised and heavily dependent on their star man. They have shown a vulnerability through the wars and in some ways that’s what made people like them. It’s sheer character and determination (plus obviously one man’s genius) that has kept Argentina in this tournament.
On the other hand you have France. I’ll liken them to a team of assassins because they’re frighteningly effective. They have mastered the art of tournament football. They can be flashy but they pick their moments, often to detrimental effect. Sometimes it feels like they’re not even trying enough, that if they truly decide to play no team in the world can live with them.
Some argue that they have not been at their best in this World Cup, well that either says the opposition are rubbish or they don’t need to be that good. They just win. That’s Didier Deschamps’ France.
France are not a difficult team to analyse. Deschamps has kept the same principles that worked well for him in Russia. In some ways the injuries have enabled him to stick to his core principles. He builds his team around unity and cohesion then plays to the strengths of his players.
It was always going to be difficult to replace N’golo Kante and Paul Pogba but they’ve not been badly off without the pair. Aurélien Tchouamèni and Adrian Rabiot have done the donkey work while the main man has rediscovered himself. Antoine Griezmann. This has always been his team. When he plays well France play well. Mbappe is well, Mbappe.
France manage to make themselves compact and with their talents defending becomes much easier. From there they invite you and kill you off on the counter attack. I don’t think they will change much against Argentina. They will be ready to pounce when given the chance.
Argentina, I think, have undergone the most tactical evolution in the tournament. Much of that evolution has been enforced either by injuries (Giovani Lo Celso) or circumstances. The Saudi Arabia loss for example. The high line as well as high press caught the Argentines off guard. Leandro Paredes was dropped and in came Enzo Fernandez who’s been one of the best midfielders of the tournament.
Coach Lionel Scaloni has used multiple different systems depending on the opposition. The 4-3-3 , 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 have all been tried out by Scaloni. I think there’s a humility in that. He’s essentially saying we’re probably not better than everyone to outplay them but we will adapt to give us the best chance of winning the game.
For example against the Netherlands, Scaloni was coming up against a much better manager than himself. He adapted and nullified the threats from Denzel Dumfries and Daley Blind out wide, although the Dutch came back into the game Scaloni had tactically forced Louis van Gaal into long balls. He deserves huge credit for what he’s done so far tactically with the team.
Argentina play in moments, much like the great man himself. Virgil van Dijk put it perfectly:
The difficult thing about Messi is when we are attacking, he is chilling somewhere in a corner or something.
And in these moments they are lethal, he is lethal whether it will be enough to win the World Cup remains to be seen.
How I see the game panning out
When these two sides last met in 2018, Argentina couldn’t cope with the intensity of that young French team. Three of the four goals they conceded were in transition and the script is more or less the same this time.
France will keep it compact and release their two crazy fast wide men in Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele supported by Giroud, Griezmann, Tchouamèni and Theo Hernandez on the left. The athletic nature of this French side is what makes them so dangerous.
I think we’ll see a ferocious Argentina. They will huff and puff and tackle anything that walks. I expect some really tough tackles to fly in from the Argentines. They will also look to counter press as soon as they lose the ball. This is something that they’ve done really well under Scaloni.
Tactically, I think the best way to beat this France side is for Argentina to play with lots of midfielders and almost pin France back with a wall of players in the middle. Morocco showed that you can play through the French, albeit they lacked the final third quality.
Argentina just don’t do easy games. They have to fight their way through it and maybe that’s what makes the wins even more special. France I think will dominate the opening stages but in the end Messi will not be denied – Argentina 2-1 France .
No matter what happens on Sunday it should be a great game and a fitting way to end the World Cup career of one of the greatest. if not the greatest, of all time.