Argentina-France World Cup final in Qatar: A clash for the ages | Football News – Times of India


DOHA: What do you do when a football match ceases to be just a football match, and becomes cosmic activity? Does it remain football, just a sport or does it become a lifelong metaphor for greatness and immortality. How is it entered in the official records then? Just plain Match No 64 at FIFA World Cup 2022, or is there a different nomenclature for such things? Does it leave all the political and cultural chaos of the hosting behind, leaving the suits feeling cleansed, as they laugh all the way to the bank?
On Sunday, whoever is crowned world champion, what is sure is that there will be a succession, a strange and belated rite of passage. Win or lose, Lionel Messi will pass on the mantle to Kylian Mbappe, making this final — his last match — then, somewhat redundant in exercise but not in meaning.
Seldom has a World Cup been so close to our souls, been so close to our streets. Nothing, no one has belonged more to the world, been called out more, than this decisive outcome, its saga-ending finale and its chief characters. Even the pavements of Rio de Janeiro, football’s spiritual home, in 2014 could not drum up that vibe that has happened this time. Back then, thousands and thousands Argentinians had driven up the northern border in old buses and their battered caravans and taken over the Copacabana, a noisy, chattery, irritating invasion of the turf and the senses. There was a destiny-fulfilling like vibe then too, there is one this time too. Why is this one seeming so right?
A global apparel giant, for long a football and FIFA partner, announces that all their Messi shirts have been sold out … worldwide. It has never happened before. Not far, or not, Naples’ finance police would raid and seize spin-offs of the famous Maradona mural, for long the touristy face of the city, from squatters still out to make a buck on the departed hero’s name. It would mean, Maradona is still very much there. The ball is still rolling in that global streetwise idea of football. Multiply that manifold and imagine that crazy expectation here in Qatar, the daily euphoria, the warmth of the horde.
This World Cup flew out of Qatar long back, almost a month ago to belong elsewhere in the world. Sunday will be high noon for the working-class streets of Buenos Aires, Bangladesh and the boulevards of Paris.
“It is like playing at home,” Emiliano Martinez, Argentina’s Big Glove, their goalkeeper, would tell us on Saturday, of the vibe that Lusail, Argentina’s home ground in Qatar, and venue for the final, emits. “We feel our fans in every match, in every stadium. We feel their support and it feels like playing in Argentina,” he would tell us something that everybody knows, most uncomfortably, France and Didier Deschamps’ squad. As if battling the Messi mania was not enough, they have to battle an outbreak of flu in the squad on eve of the final.
For France, a fearsome, complete footballing unit out to grab its second straight title since Brazil in 1962, every talk, every reference to their title defense on Sunday, emanates via a mention of Messi. They are favourites, but they are almost incidental to the overall equation. What terrible predicament. “When you face that type of player, you need special focus on him,” France captain Hugo Lloris would say, “(But) there are a lot of young players who are talented.”
Yes, Lloris is right. To think, they have Mbappe – just 23 and already primed to win his second World Cup title. Still, the world champions suffer in recall.
Deschamps would seek some comfort in the two sides’ second round meeting in Russia four years ago. The 4-3 scoreline would look close, the game would be anything but. The scene of a rampaging Mbappe – barely 20 then – tearing down the throat of the Argentine half, a flailing badly-outrun Javier Mascherano, lunging behind but unable to even get hold of the hem of the disappearing Frenchman’s shirt would be the image of the tournament.
“We’ve been analysing Argentina’s games. They could line up differently and we could too. Seven players of the current Argentina set-up were present in 2018, so you can’t really compare,” the pragmatist in Deschamps would speak up, “The line-ups are different, game plans are different. I guess our experience helps us.”
The FIFA Technical Study Group, headed by Arsene Wenger and Juergen Klinsmann, would offer the studied nuances. “Argentina and France are both stimulated teams, they are happier to let the other team play, keep possession and react as per the situation,” Wenger would say.
“Mbappe receives the ball behind the defenders, Messi receives it behind the midfielders. France have explosive pace, Argentina have been very, very efficient. They need one more shot than France to score,” he would explain.
Klismann would sum it up best. “When you have a player like Messi, you put all your cards in his pocket.”
True. But does Messi have any room left in his pocket? Because right now, he has the entire world in his pocket. And yet, win or lose, Mbappe will be the new king from tomorrow onwards. Football’s sure a funny game, especially when it’s a cosmic activity.


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