AL RAYYAN, Qatar — By definition, fairy tales are not real.
So as much as it seems that the stars are lining up for Lionel Messi to end his unprecedented career by cradling the World Cup in his arms, the cold, hard reality is that there’s a chance the storybook ending won’t happen.
According to the bookmakers, there will be no favorite when Argentina and France take the field in Sunday World Cup Final (Coverage begins at 9 a.m. ET, FOX and the FOX Sports app.) That does not prevent Argentines from embracing each other. manufacturing — an underdog role before the game against the defending champions.
“People can say that the favorite is France. We always like to hear that the opponent is the favourite,” goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez said at his team’s final press conference before the decisive match on Saturday. He couldn’t help but add a qualifier.
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“But we have the great advantage of having the best player of all time.”
Martínez was talking about Messi, of course.
The grand finale between two nations that have won the title twice before has been billed as a battle between the GOAT, who is desperate to win his first World Cup in his last appearance for his country (Messi will retire from international play after the match). , in which he will break the tournament record for appearances) and his heir apparent: French star Kylian Mbappé.
It is an irresistible story, without a doubt. So is the very search for the history of France; Mbappé hopes to help the blues becoming the first nation in 60 years to win back-to-back titles.
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Still, Argentine coach Lionel Scaloni insisted Saturday that it is about more than the two names in bold.
“Tomorrow’s game will be more of a collective effort than an individual effort,” he said. “Mbappé is a great player, obviously. France have so many great players, and they work for him, and that makes him a better player.”
“But this match will be between Argentina against France, beyond Messi and Mbappé, beyond these two players,” he added. “There are many players who can decide this game.”
However, Argentina seems to have a cosmic advantage, albeit a slight one. the blues they have been ravaged by a virus that has swept through their squad in recent days. Illness prevented two French starters from taking part in Wednesday’s semifinal win over Morocco.
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FOX Sports’ Jenny Taft reported Saturday that all 24 remaining French players (Forward Karim Benzema and defender Lucas Hernández left camp earlier in the competition due to injury) trained on Saturday, but it’s obviously not the ideal preparation.
“We would have preferred not to have to face this difficulty,” said coach Didier Deschamps.
Another factor that is not in favor of France? The albicelestefield support in Doha. The Qatari capital has been invaded by fans in baby blue and white for weeks. With Argentina and its superstar draw now on the brink of glory, those numbers have skyrocketed in recent days.
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The cavernous 90,000-seat Lusail Iconic Stadium will be packed on Sunday, with nearly everyone in attendance shouting their lungs out for Argentina, hoping to see Mbappe and company lose.
“It’s as if we were playing at home”, Martínez. “That’s a big advantage.”
It is also a great responsibility. Martínez and Scaloni talked about being fans as well as players. It is difficult to describe what soccer means to Argentines in normal times, although the coach did his best to try. With the country mired in economic crisis, what his team has accomplished so far has been the most welcome distraction.
“They needed this joy a lot,” Scaloni said about the fans. “Football is more than a sport for us. The fact that we were able to make them happy is something wonderful and amazing.”
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Still, the burden of trying not to let down his sponsors, not to mention his revered 35-year-old captain, at the final hurdle is immense. Those emotions must be managed carefully, or they risk bringing out the best in the Argentine players and swallowing them whole.
“To be honest, the need to win a game can sometimes backfire,” Martinez said. “We have to keep a cool head.”
With all the neutrals on Earth, “and maybe some French ones too,” Deschamps said, apparently rooting for Messi and his squad, Argentina surely doesn’t feel like an underdog. But there’s no doubt The albiceleste are overwhelmingly popular favorites due to their unique headlining.
Win or lose, Messi has already given the world another gift before his final act on the biggest stage: a reason to hope and dream.
“This is the best possible scenario, because it is a World Cup final,” Scaloni said. “We hope he can lift this trophy. It would be a wonderful thing.”