France is ready to rain on Lionel Messi’s parade

DOHA, Qatar: The sound was a bit unsettling. After Argentina’s decisive 3-0 victory over Croatia in the World Cup semi-final on Tuesday, the words “Messi…Messi” echoed through the nearby metro station.

Thousands of fans dressed in Argentina’s iconic blue and white striped shirts with Lionel Messi’s name and number 10 on the back chanted the name of the greatest player of all time in a slow, drawn-out manner.

This was probably not unique to this post-match experience, as supporters of Messi and Argentina have had a presence in Qatar over the past five weeks. Now, however, as other fans have returned home with their away teams, Doha seems to be filled with only Argentine fans. In fact, walking through the streets of the city center, day or night, you rarely see French flags or groups of people wearing Kylian Mbappé shirts.

And these aren’t just fans who have flown across the world from Argentina, by the way. These are people from all over the world, from the Middle East to Europe and Asia, who have come to Qatar hoping to see Messi make history.

So it was no surprise that on Saturday morning, the day before the highly-anticipated World Cup final between France and Argentina at the Lusail Stadium, French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was asked if he felt this match would unleash France against the world .

“As long as we have the support of our fans and know that the French people are behind us, nothing else matters,” Lloris said. “Very few believed in us at the beginning, at the beginning of this adventure. But now we are in the last four years after our last final, and we will do everything we can to try and win the game.

“Of course, we know what Lionel Messi means in the history of football. But this is a game between France and Argentina at the end of the day.”

France’s Hugo Lloris reflects on how special it is to reach the final of the 2022 FIFA World Cup

France's Hugo Lloris reflects on how special it is to reach the final of the 2022 FIFA World Cup

Hugo Lloris spoke to Jenny Taft about how special it is to reach the 2022 FIFA World Cup finals with France.

France are hoping to become only the third team to win back-to-back titles (joining Italy 1934-1938 and PelĂ©’s Brazil in 1958-1962). Looking into this tournament, however, many doubted it the blue ones chances of repeating Injuries to big-name players were among the reasons, but more than that was recent history showing that World Cup champions often disappoint four years later.

Take France in 1998, Italy in 2006, Spain in 2010 and Germany in 2014. None advanced from the group stage to the next World Cup.

“We are looking forward to writing our own history and creating our own history,” said Lloris. “It will be the toughest match of the tournament, it’s the final. Needless to say.”

Defending champions France may be the bookies’ favourite, but Messi is the overall story. The 35-year-old legend, who has said this would be his last World Cup, is one big match away from doing what he has most wanted to do in his career. And that’s to lift the World Cup trophy as champion.

So how does Lloris, as captain of France, temper the emotions and all the anticipation that his team has to go through?

“I think the event is too massive to focus on just one player,” he said. “It’s a final between two great football nations, between Argentina and France. Obviously, when you face this type of player, you need a special focus on him. But it’s not just about him. He’s a strong team with many talented players. With a young generation of players, and you can feel that they are all dedicated to Leo Messi. But we will try to find the key to success in this game.”

France beat Morocco in their semi-final match on Wednesday at the Al Bayt Stadium which was packed with an overwhelming majority of Atlas Lions fans. Feeling like they are playing a road game is nothing new for the Blues.

“Of course we will have French fans in the stadium, but yes, it is true that the majority of fans will probably support Argentina,” said coach Didier Deschamps. “I think it will be a very festive atmosphere. I think Argentinians are a very passionate people and they support their team as you would expect.

“But our rivals are not in the crowd. Our rivals are the team we face on the pitch and they are a good team because we care more than the fans.”

While Deschamps, who has been France’s coach for 10 years, played down what the environment will be like in Sunday’s final, he also understands the reality. And yes, most of the people who come home and inside the stadium will be cheering for Messi.

“I know that a lot of people around the world, and maybe some French people too, expect Lionel Messi to win the World Cup,” Deschamps said. “But we will do everything to reach our goal.”

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Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in the spring of 2022 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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