Analysing the Argentina-France World Cup final by position

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It’s the World Cup final — France against Argentina, the reigning world champions versus the champions of South America, Kylian Mbappe taking on Lionel Messi — and it will end with one of football’s heavyweight nations winning the World Cup for a third time.

Qatar 2022 has had its highlights, including great goals, stunning individual performances and some of the biggest upsets that the World Cup has ever seen, but the final chapter is yet to be written, with Argentina or France delivering a memorable finish. So, which side will win?

Fate could not have handpicked a better final in terms of competitive edge, geographic balance and star quality, and here’s how it could play out across the field at Lusail Iconic Stadium on Sunday. As France aim to become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to win back-to-back World Cups and Messi seeks an elusive world title with Argentina, this is the tale of the tape between the two teams.

– World Cup 2022: News and features | Schedule | Bracket


Goalkeeper: Lloris’ steady presence vs. Martinez’s swashbuckling style

This is a battle of Hugo Lloris’ experience for France against the all-action style of Argentina’s Emi Martinez.

Lloris has had a good World Cup, but the Tottenham No. 1 is nonetheless regarded as a weakness in the French team. His distribution with his feet is not in the same bracket as the game’s top keepers and he can be prone to spilling shots and creating chances for opposing strikers. But he brings a calmness and authority to manager Didier Deschamps’ team, and his value to the squad is borne out by him retaining the captaincy for this tournament.

Martinez is a very different goalkeeper for Argentina. He is loud, constantly communicating with his defenders, and his physical presence — at 1.95m he is 7cm taller than Lloris — enables him to dominate his penalty area far more convincingly than his counterpart on the French side. His last-minute save from Australia’s Garang Kuol was one of the most crucial of the World Cup, and he went on to make a difference in the penalty shootout win to lead Argentina against Netherlands, too.

Martinez can be prone to the kind of rash decision-making that Lloris avoids, but he goes into the final as the outstanding keeper on show.

WHO HAS THE EDGE: Argentina


Defence: France’s consistency vs. Argentina’s momentum

Both teams have conceded five goals on the way to reaching the final, but Argentina have registered three clean sheets compared to France’s one, which came in the 2-0 semifinal win against Morocco.

In terms of personnel, France possess the greater experience and quality. Theo Hernandez at left-back has arguably been more consistent than any of his Argentina counterparts, while centre-back Raphael Varane has been formidable alongside both Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate, who was excellent in the semifinal.

Still, the French back line has weaknesses. Jules Kounde, the France right-back, has been vulnerable and exposed at times, and he simply hasn’t enjoyed as impressive a tournament as Argentina’s Nahuel Molina. It is at centre-back where Argentina have excelled, with Lisandro Martinez, Nicolas Otamendi and Cristian Romero all getting better as the tournament has progressed.

The key in this game could be the ability of the France defence to cope with all different kinds of threats — pace, movement, strength and height. Argentina have shown they can win a physical battle, but can they deal with Olivier Giroud’s aerial prowess and the lightning pace of Kylian Mbappe? They appear less convincing than France at the moment.

WHO HAS THE EDGE: France


Midfield: World Cup debutants on both sides, but one with more top-level experience

France have reached the final despite being without key midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante due to injury.

In the veterans’ absence, Deschamps has largely turned to 27-year-old Adrien Rabiot and 22-year-old Aurelien Tchouameni, two players who did not feature for France when Les Bleus won the World Cup in 2018. The pair overcame their biggest challenge by matching up to England’s powerful midfield in their quarterfinal win. Eduardo Camavinga, 20, another World Cup debutant, has also made an impression.

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni has made changes to his midfield throughout the tournament, but he has seen some big performances from 23-year-old Alexis Mac Allister and 21-year-old Enzo Fernandez, another duo of World Cup first-timers. Rodrigo De Paul, 28, has been another key figure who, despite his lack of outstanding technical ability, has given Argentina great energy, tenacity and commitment. De Paul’s readiness to allow his more accomplished teammates take the ball has been an unheralded element of Argentina’s success. Veterans Marcos Acuna and Leandro Paredes have also done their bit for Argentina, but it seems most likely that Scaloni will turn to Mac Allister, Fernandez and De Paul from the start on Sunday.

It is a close call between the two midfields, which are both being led by players in their first World Cups, but France just edge it with their greater top-level experience.

WHO HAS THE EDGE: France


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1:38

Taylor Twellman joins SportsCenter and makes quite the grand comparison between Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe.

Attack: Messi vs. Mbappe, but also brute force vs. varied scoring threats

There isn’t much to choose between the two teams when it comes to goals, with France scoring 13 and Argentina netting 12 so far in this tournament.

With four goals for Argentina, Julian Alvarez has been crucial in sharing the burden with Lionel Messi, who is joint top of the Golden Boot race with France’s Kylian Mbappe on five goals — although the Argentina captain has one more assist, which could be crucial as a tie-breaker.

In terms of goal threat, France just have the edge. They have had 91 attempts at goal compared to 83 by Argentina, with 72% of France’s coming from inside the penalty area — the dangerous, high-percentage scoring zone. Argentina have had 67% of their attempts on goal from inside the penalty area, per FIFA stats. Although Argentina are superior in shot conversion rate (15% to France’s 14.1%) and expected goals (12.20 xG to France’s 11.92), Argentina lack a variety of styles with their forwards.

None of Argentina’s forwards possess the aerial threat of Olivier Giroud or direct pace of Mbappe, making Les Bleus a more varied threat that is harder to contain. France also have the creativity of Antoine Griezmann and width provided by Ousmane Dembele and Kingsley Coman. But Argentina have Messi, who, despite being 35, has been their talisman in Qatar. If it comes down to a battle between Messi and Mbappe, stand by for fireworks.

WHO HAS THE EDGE: France

– O’Hanlon: Why Messi is the best male athlete ever (E+)


Managers: David (Argentina) vs. Goliath (France)

Lionel Scaloni against Didier Deschamps is a coaching version of David versus Goliath. Deschamps is looking to win a second World Cup as France coach, having already captained Les Bleus to World Cup glory in 1998. After 10 years in the job, the 54-year-old is one of the longest-serving coaches in international football. Scaloni, 44, is in his first coaching role with Argentina and earned just seven caps as a player, but he has already achieved success with the Albiceleste by ending their 28-year wait for international glory with the 2021 Copa America title.

There is a sense, however, that Argentina have reached the final in spite of, rather than because of, their coach, who has struggled to find consistency of selection. Throughout the tournament, Argentina have played with changes at the back and up front on a game-by-game basis. But perhaps Scaloni’s biggest attribute is his readiness to accept that the other Lionel — Messi — is the most important member of the entire Argentine party in Qatar, and he has given him the freedom to do whatever he must do for the team.

WHO HAS THE EDGE: France


Squad depth: France’s dependence on backups vs. Argentina’s narrow starting core

France have remarkable quality in all areas. Just look at the players who didn’t even make it to Qatar because of injury — Pogba, Kante, Karim Benzema, Christopher Nkunku, Presnel Kimpembe. Then add Lucas Hernandez, who suffered a tournament-ending injury in the group stage. But France haven’t missed any of them.

Olivier Giroud has filled the gap left by Benzema’s injury, Antoine Griezmann has helped make up for the loss of Pogba and Nkunku, while France’s defensive options at the back are so deep that Kimpembe’s injury has not been noticed. On top of that, William Saliba, Benjamin Pavard, Matteo Guendouzi and Kingsley Coman have barely figured in Qatar, but they are all available for coach Didier Deschamps.

Argentina simply don’t have anything like France’s depth. Paulo Dybala is perhaps the one player who has deserved more than the few minutes he has registered, but Scaloni does not have a deep well of talent to select from. Julian Alvarez has been crucial with his goals, but with Lautaro Martinez failing to shine, Argentina’s lack of a modern-day Gabriel Batistuta, Sergio Aguero or Hernan Crespo has really shown at times.

WHO HAS THE EDGE: France


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1:44

Alejandro Moreno examines Lionel Messi’s movement against Croatia and ability to impact the game at any moment.

Intangibles: storylines and the human spirit vs. analytics and stats

This is the part where you can throw all of the statistics and scientific data into the bin because, on virtually every point, France win the debate hands down. But in reality, Argentina go into the World Cup final with real hope because they have elements to their game which simply cannot be measured. There is a real bond between the Argentina players and supporters in Qatar and, together, they seem to be driving inexorably toward glory.

France have the greater quality, depth and experience, but the Argentina supporters are incredible. Watching Argentina play is like being at Anfield or the Santiago Bernabeu on a big Champions League night — the backing of the supporters is noisy and endless. And the players all seem to be sacrificing everything for their country and for Messi, who in return is producing the kind of performances that Diego Maradona delivered while inspiring Argentina to their last World Cup triumph in 1986.

If the sporting gods really do exist, then France have no chance on Sunday because fate is pointing toward Messi finally lifting the World Cup. Argentina are, by some distance, a team that is greater than the sum of its parts, and when that is the case, even the strongest opponents can be overcome. France hold all the aces, but that might not be enough.

WHO HAS THE EDGE: Argentina


The final verdict: Will France or Argentina win the World Cup?

The head says France, every time. Experience, quality, youthful energy, a superstar in Kylian Mbappe and a coach who has been there and done it before.

If France can blank out the Messi factor and the feeling that they are playing against the whole of Argentina in the middle of Buenos Aires, they will retain the World Cup.

But if this is Messi’s Last Dance for Argentina, then get ready for a celebratory tango on Sunday night.

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