HomeSportsFor Lionel Messi, France is the perfect challenge as he pursues immortality.

For Lionel Messi, France is the perfect challenge as he pursues immortality.


AL KHOR, Qatar — That’s how it had to be. For Lionel Messi have it all: victory, history, fairy tale, the ultimate stamp of immortality – this is the one.

This is the game, the World Cup final (Sunday, 10 am ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app). And this is the right opponent, the defending champion of France, and there is no valid argument to the contrary.

There could have been more spicy and tribal endings, as if the draw and the key had lined up to pit Messi and his colleagues against neighboring rival Brazil.

There could have been a more historic showdown for the trophy, as if Argentina had faced an old political and military enemy in England.

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Argentina’s Lionel Messi, left, and Saudi Arabia’s Abdulelha Al-Malki fight for the ball during a World Cup Group C soccer match at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar on November 22, 2022.
(AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

And there could have been a decider that offered, in most minds, a greater chance of victory, if Morocco had continued their dream run to reach the final.

But this is the most suitable battle for the title and the correct way to develop it. Messi, one of the most extraordinary individual soccer talents the world has ever known, will seek his fate against the mighty battalion of a near-perfect team.

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France, under the guidance of head coach Didier Deschamps, have cracked the code to this perplexing puzzle of how to bring players who spend virtually all of their time playing for different clubs together as a cohesive unit working with a singular mind.

They did it four years ago in Russia, and they’re after him again. And they are perhaps the only soccer lovers on the planet with no interest in the sentimentality surrounding Messi’s drive for the one soccer achievement worth escaping his grasp.

Theo Hernandez of France celebrates with ‎Ethan Mbappé after scoring his team's first goal during a World Cup semi-final match against Morocco at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Wednesday, December 14, 2022.

Theo Hernandez of France celebrates with ‎Ethan Mbappé after scoring his team’s first goal during a World Cup semi-final match against Morocco at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Wednesday, December 14, 2022.
(AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

By ending Morocco’s delicious run in the semifinals at the Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday, France cut short the funniest loser story of this World Cup. Messi’s march into even deeper posterity is a different kind of story, one focused on superstar-level excellence rather than bravery against all odds.

Or is that it? Because the bookmakers will favor France this weekend, such is Les Blues’ dominance level and the way he seems capable of handling any kind of obstacle.

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Truth be told, if Deschamps can imagine a stifling game plan for Messi and if his players can execute it… like germany did In the 2014 masterpiece, the European team will deserve to keep their cloak of invincibility and that sculpted piece of gold that everyone plays for.

Eight years ago, Messi experienced one of the most frustrating nights of his career. He didn’t play badly in the biggest game of all, but the Germans had an answer for everything he did.

Lionel Messi of Argentina during a FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group C match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia at Lusail Stadium on November 22, 2022, in Lusail City, Qatar.

Lionel Messi of Argentina during a FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group C match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia at Lusail Stadium on November 22, 2022, in Lusail City, Qatar.
(Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Sometimes it was Philip Lahm who crossed his path and slowed down. Either Mats Hummels denying him room to turn, or Bastian Schweinsteiger pulling back to restrict and harass him. When, at the end of that game at the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, a Mario Goetze goal was the only difference and Messi was awarded the Ballon d’Or for best player of the tournament, it almost felt like an insult.

France will expect a similar result.

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“Messi has been in brilliant form since the start of the tournament,” Deschamps said. “He is taking the ball a lot and running with it and he is in great form. Of course, he is one of the best in the world and he has shown it. We are going to try to counter Messi’s threat and prevent him from influencing the game.”

They will do it with skill and complexity. Messi, because that is at the root of everything he does, he will look for the same. He knows Deschamps’ mind is whirring with ways to stop him, even in the hours immediately after France’s semi-final victory.

Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring Argentina's second goal during a World Cup quarter-final match against the Netherlands at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Friday, December 9, 2022.

Argentina’s Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring Argentina’s second goal during a World Cup quarter-final match against the Netherlands at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Friday, December 9, 2022.
(AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

And Messi’s brain is working too, imagining, predicting, analyzing accurately so he can play free and prepared, with the natural joy that makes his game so loved around the world.

There will be talk of other duels in the final and yes, they are part of it. But the big story will be France’s Messi master plan and whether or not the little master has a strong enough last World Cup to conquer it.

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Well, there’s the contest. And the fate of the World Cup. And if Messi’s career resume will forever include the biggest prize in football.



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