5 keys to Argentina-France World Cup final: How to slow Kylian Mbappé, Lionel Messi

DOHA, Qatar – The World Cup final is unlike any other game, especially with two marquee teams led by superstars going head-to-head as Lionel Messi’s Argentina and Kylian Mbappé’s France meet in the much-anticipated Sunday’s decision (coverage begins at 9 a.m. ET, FOX and the FOX Sports App) at Lusail Iconic Stadium.

However, the numbers for Sunday’s contest must be decided on the sidelines, just like any other high-stakes encounter between two elite and balanced foes.

“There are two key players who can make the difference,” said France coach Didier Deschamps. “Maybe the team that manages to make the fewest mistakes will win the game.”

Here are five factors that could determine whether the purple lift the trophy for the first time since 1986 or the blue ones retain the title they won four years ago.

[Nothing draws in the world quite like the World Cup final]

How will France stop Messi?

That’s obviously a question opposing coaches have been asking themselves for the better part of the last two decades. But France boss Didier Deschamps’ game plan limited Messi when the blue ones he shut down the living legend in the Round of 16 in 2018. Messi’s only goal was an assist in his side’s 4-3 loss to the eventual champions.

But Messi has played a deeper role in Qatar, meaning Deschamps’ centre-backs have to decide whether to sit back and protect the area behind them or move up into midfield to follow him.

“For Messi to actually play as a center forward against us took us by surprise four years ago,” Deschamps said after the semi-final win over Morocco on Wednesday. “Now he’s playing in tandem, or right behind, with the center forward. He’s picking up the ball a lot and running with it.”

The French centre-backs will rely heavily on midfield destroyer Aurélien Tchouaméni and his partner (either Youssouf Fofana or Adrien Rabiot) to limit Messi’s time and space when faced with possession.

Can Lionel Messi lead Argentina to World Cup GREATNESS over Kylian Mbappé, France?

Can Lionel Messi lead Argentina to World Cup GREATNESS over Kylian Mbappé, France?

Argentina must defend Mbappé by committee

Against all-world right-backs Achraf Hakimi and Kyle Walker in the wins over England and Morocco, Mbappé didn’t do much. But he eventually got past Hakimi to score the goal that sealed France’s victory. When he did, there was no one to cover and shut him down.

It takes more than one defender to outplay Mbappé, who is quick and skilled enough to torch any opponent if given enough one-on-one opportunities. If Mbappé is able to get behind or round Argentine right-back Nahuel Molina, right-winger Rodrigo De Paul and centre-backs Nicolás Otamendi and Cristian Romero must anticipate the danger and be there to help.

Are Lionel Messi or Kylian Mbappé under MORE PRESSURE to win the World Cup?

Are Lionel Messi or Kylian Mbappé under MORE PRESSURE to win the World Cup?

Alexi Lalas and David Mosse debate whether Kylian Mbappé or Lionel Messi has more pressure to win the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Tin Julian Alvarez baffled the defenders of France?

With four goals so far in Qatar, just one short of World Cup Golden Boot co-leaders Mbappé and Messi, 22-year-old Alvarez has been one of the tournament’s breakout stars.

But the purple the forward doesn’t just score; He can both occupy the centrals to give Messi more room to operate behind him or drop into midfield to find the ball. The first of his two goals in Argentina’s 3-0 semi-final win over Croatia began with Álvarez collecting the ball in his own half.

Against France, Alvarez will likely match up directly with veteran centre-back Raphaël Varane, assuming Varane is available (more on that below). Varane has done well against Qatar’s centre-forwards, including Poland’s Robert Lewandowski in the last 16 and England’s Harry Kane, whose goal came from the penalty spot, in the quarter-finals. But Alvarez is not a typical target man, and his unconventional movement could throw Varane out of position at times, leaving the blue ones vulnerable

The disease could decimate the blue ones alignment

Varane would be ruled out after starting all three knockout games, but he is one of at least five players now in doubt due to the virus gnawing at France’s roster. He and Dayot Upamecano had been Deschamps’ preferred central pairing before the latter missed the semi-final. Ibrahima Konaté was excellent in Varane’s place, but he too is ill.

Plagued by flu-like symptoms, Rabiot was not well enough to leave the team hotel for the Morocco match. Winger Kingsley Coman is the other infected player, Deschamps confirmed on Thursday.

It’s a nightmare scenario for the coach.

The Argentine fans could make the difference

Another thing that could help Messi & Co? The of the Albiceleste travel support The French fans fell short of Morocco 10-1. They could make up an even smaller percentage of the crowd on Sunday, with Doha overrun by tens of thousands of exuberant and expectant Argentines desperate to see 35-year-old Messi lift his first world title in his final Copa del Rey appearance. World and, in the process, return the soccer-obsessed South American nation to what they believe is their rightful place at the top of the global pecking order for the first time in 36 years.

[Lionel Messi’s viral speech gives rare look at his leadership style]

This sentiment is not limited to die-hards.

“This is what I have always dreamed of as an Argentine.” purple Coach Lionel Scaloni said afterwards that his team outplayed Croatia.

“We know it will be a difficult game,” said French midfielder Antoine Griezmann. “We know they will have a lot of support from the crowd.”

Argentina’s Lionel Messi proved that he is the GOAT?

Argentina's Lionel Messi proved that he is the GOAT?

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Doug McIntyre is a football writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a writer for ESPN and Yahoo Sports and has covered the US men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @By Doug McIntyre.

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