And then there were two.
Despite a tournament which featured countless twists and turns and many shock results, the winner will be decided by a blockbuster matchup between a pair of favourites.
After 63 matches and over 5670 minutes of jam-packed action between 32 hopeful nations, 90 minutes of regulation is all that separates unbridled joy and heartbreaking devastation for the two teams left standing.
The World Cup final will take place at 2am on Monday AEDT as Argentina face France at Lusail Stadium.
It is the first time in history La albiceleste will take on Les Bleus in a World Cup final.
While Argentina will be eager to break a nearly 40-year drought and take home their third World Cup, the fixture will be France’s opportunity to become just the third team in history and first in 60 years to win back-to-back World Cups.
Read on for all key information in our FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final Ultimate Guide!
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Croatia edge Morocco to claim 3rd place | 02:31
LOCATION AND KICK OFF TIME
Monday, December 19 at Lusail Stadium, Doha, 02:00am AEDT kick-off.
Lusail Stadium capacity: 88,966.
Sunny 22 degrees at kick off. Lowest temperature will be 17 degrees, with the highest expected to reach 26 degrees in the afternoon.
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HOW TO WATCH
The match will be shown live on SBS TV and SBS On Demand.
You can follow all the action in our Fox Sports live blog.
HEAD TO HEAD RECORD
This will be the fourth World Cup meeting between Argentina and France.
La albiceleste won two of the previous three, but lost the only such encounter in the knockout stage, after Kylian Mbappe inspired a famous 4-3 comeback victory for Les Bleus inRussia 2018’s Round of 16 clash.
Overall, this is set to be the 13th meeting between Argentina and France in all competitions, with the French winning just three of the previous 12 (D3 L6).
ROAD TO THE FINAL
Argentina recovered from a shock 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia in their opening group match to finish top of Group C, thanks to consecutive 2-0 victories over Mexico and Poland.
In the last 16, La albiceleste survived a late rally from Australia – who in the end were considered unlucky not to take the game to extra time after a deflected goal from Craig Goodwin sparked a major revival – to hang on for a 2-1 victory over the Socceroos.
That set up a fierce and fiery quarterfinal against the Netherlands, which ended 2-2 after 120 minutes, before the Argentines controversially taunted the downtrodden Dutch after they had booked a spot in the final four on penalties 4-3.
It was all one way traffic in the semi-final as La albiceleste cruised past Croatia 3-0 to advance to their sixth World Cup final and first since 2014.
Only Germany have participated in more finals (8), but a loss tomorrow would see Argentina level Germany with the joint-most World Cup final losses in history (4).
Messi takes the mickey in ABSURD display | 01:03
In contrast, France’s start to the tournament had no such trials and tribulations, as they eased past the Socceroos 4-1, despite conceding first.
A 2-1 victory over Denmark ensured Les Bleus qualification to the knockout stages and top spot in Group E, which allowed them to play their reserves in a meaningless 0-1 defeat by Tunisia.
The French locked in a massive quarterfinal clash with England by easily dispatching an outclassed Poland, 3-1, in the Round of 16.
France survived a major scare in the quarterfinal – after being outplayed for long periods, before securing a 2-1 win thanks to Harry Kane’s late penalty miss – breaking English hearts to advance to the final four.
Les Blues were below their best in their semi-final match, but the French had too much quality for their Moroccan opponents booking a place in their second consecutive World Cup final thanks to a 2-0 victory, ending Morocco’s fairytale run in the process.
France have reached the World Cup final for a fourth time (all since 1998) and are looking to become only the third nation to win back-to-back World Cups, after Italy (1934 and 1938) and Brazil (1958 and 1962).
France end Morocco’s Cinderella run | 01:50
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MESSI VS MBAPPE
While the final is a match between Argentina and France, all eyes will be on the intriguing battle between PSG teammates Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe.
Although neither will line up directly opposite each other on the pitch and will likely only encounter each other before and/or after the game, both men’s ability to impact the game will go a long way to deciding which of their respective team’s wins the contest.
Kylian Mbappe is just 23 years old but he already pockets the highest salary in the football world – reportedly a whopping €630 million ($1bn AUD) over three seasons.
He is also the face of France’s world champion team, the razor-sharp cutting edge of an attack that has scythed through opponents this World Cup.
That team is already in rarefied air as one of a select few to reach the final of the tournament as defending champions. On Monday morning (2am AEDT), they face Lionel Messi’s Argentina in a bid to become just the third team in Cup history to go back-to-back, and the first since Brazil in 1962.
Four years ago, the teams met in the Round of 16 in Russia. On that day, Mbappe announced himself on the world stage by instigating a remarkable 4-3 comeback in one of the most memorable and thrilling games of the tournament.
Mbappe earned a penalty with a stunning 75-yard run early in the match, before scoring two goals in quick succession in the second half to send the Albiceleste packing. In a match of two masterful No 10s – Messi and Mbappe – it was the youngster who dominated proceedings and presented himself as a truly world-class player, and potentially the future best player in the world.
Little did the two superstars know that they would become club teammates before Qatar. It has been a rocky road to superstardom for Mbappe, rocked by ugly drama for club and country.
But on Monday morning, should he repeat the feats of 2018 and lead France to victory, he can put those dramas behind him – and perhaps proclaim himself the best player in the world.
In the final, Mbappe will face his PSG teammate in Lionel Messi. The golden boot race is level, with both players on five goals. Both are in with a strong chance of winning the golden ball as well as player of the tournament.
Should Mbappe get the upper hand, he will – at just 23 – have lifted the World Cup trophy twice and enshrined himself in football history.
In doing so, he might just prove himself the best player in the world.
As teammate Aurelien Tchouameni told TyC Sports: “For me, Kylian is the best … and he will prove it on Sunday.”
Standing in Mbappe’s way is Argentine legend Lionel Messi who has played like a man possessed as he looks to avenge his nation’s heartbreaking 2018 deafeat.
Five Budweiser Player of the Match awards says it all about Messi’s greatness in Qatar.
Despite having walked for 30km across all of Argentina’s games, the 35-year-old superstar has proven to be deadly when it matters most with five goals and three assists to his name which should came as no surprise given he’s created the most chances of anyone in Qatar with 14.
His most recent assist was perhaps his most special when he turned Gvardiol into a pretzel en route to putting it on a platter for Julian Alvarez to score.
Lionel Messi, though, sounds like a man content to ride off into the sunset, win or lose.
In an interview with Guillem Balague of CBS Sports and BBC Radio, Messi acknowledged that Sunday’s 2022 World Cup final, in which Argentina will play France, will “almost certainly” be his last match at a World Cup, and expressed an appreciation for everything that’s brought him to this stage.
“I’m enjoying it and for some time, I have been enjoying it in a different way than in the past,” Messi said in Spanish.
“Not only with the national side, but in life, too.”
This will be the second World Cup final for Messi, as Argentina lost to Germany on Mario Götze’s extra-time winner in 2014.
It would be Argentina’s first World Cup title since 1986, when Diego Maradona led them past West Germany in Mexico City.
For Messi, it is a chance to cement his legacy on the international stage, where he won his first major trophy only last summer in the Copa America, when Argentina beat Brazil in the final.
His relative lack of success with the Albicelestes compared to the club level with Barcelona has always been a knock on his legacy, particularly back home in Argentina.
In his last World Cup, though, Messi has been excellent, with a penalty kick goal and a dazzling assist in the semifinal against Croatia being arguably his best performance in a tournament where he has been the standout player. Argentina will go into the final with confidence.
“The truth is that it is a very powerful group, very strong,” Messi said.
“We said it when we lost our first game [to Saudi Arabia] which none of us expected, that we had trust in ourselves because we know what we have in this group, the strength that it has and in the end, that helped us grow, made us stronger and we knew that we could achieve this.
“A lot of happiness, obviously, to be able to achieve this, to be able to finish my career in the World Cup playing my last game in a final and the truth is that everything I experienced in this World Cup is something very exciting, what the people here have experienced and how the people back in Argentina are enjoying it.”
Win or lose, Messi stressed the achievements of the Argentine national team, which went 36 matches in a row unbeaten before the stunning loss to Saudi Arabia, and won a major trophy for the first time since the 1993 Copa America last summer.
“Obviously we all want to raise it, we want to be World Champions, but it’s a football match, anything can happen,” Messi said.
“And yes, hopefully this time it will be different from Brazil .”
If Messi can finally capture the World Cup trophy that has so long eluded him he may finally put to bed the long running GOAT debate with Portugal superstar and arch rival Cristiano Ronaldo.
This summary on Messi originally appeared on the New York Post and has been reposted with permission
Heartfelt Message to Messi from reporter | 00:37
PREDICTED STARTING XI
(4-4-2, right to left): 23. E. Martinez (GK) — 26. Molina, 13. Romero, 19. Otamendi, 8. Acuna — 5. Paredes, 7. De Paul, 24. Fernandez, 20. Mac Allister — 10. Messi, 9. Alvarez
Argentina’s only injury doubt is Papu Gomez, who missed out on the semifinal win over Croatia with an unspecified issue.
Fullbacks Marcos Acuna and Gonzalo Montiel will be both be available after serving a one-match suspension, though only the former should start.
Head coach Lionel Scaloni’s biggest call is whether to stick with the 4-4-2 formation that he used last time out or match up France and bring Angel Di Maria back into a front three.
(4-3-3, right to left): 1. Lloris (GK) — 5. Kounde, 4. Varane, 18. Upamecano, 22. T. Hernandez — 8. Tchouameni, 7. Griezmann, 14. Rabiot — 11. Dembele, 9. Giroud, 10. Mbappe.
Injured: L. Hernandez.
France coach Didier Deschamps was sweating on the fitness of several key players on Saturday as his team battled a mystery virus on the eve of the World Cup final against Argentina.
As reigning champions France prepare to face Lionel Messi and Argentina at Doha’s Lusail Stadium, they are struggling to contain a viral outbreak that is believed to have affected five players so far.
Central defenders Raphael Varane and Ibrahima Konate, and winger Kingsley Coman were the latest players to be laid low by the illness, and were forced to miss a training session on Friday.
That came two days after Adrien Rabiot and Dayot Upamecano were ruled out of Wednesday’s semi-final victory over Morocco.
Players, staff and sources close to the French squad have spoken of a range of symptoms affecting the team in recent days including fever, stomach pain and headaches.
“We are trying to take as many precautions as possible, to adapt as necessary and get on with it,” Deschamps said at a press conference.
“Obviously it would be better if this wasn’t happening but we are handling it as well as possible with our medical staff.”
There was a more encouraging bulletin from the French camp later Saturday after all 24 members of Deschamps’ squad took to the field at the start of a final team training session.
It was not clear if all players played a full part in the session, however, which was only open to the media for the first 15 minutes.
The virus scare threatens to derail France’s bid to become the first team to win back-to-back World Cups since Brazil achieved the feat in 1962.
Aurelien Tchouameni (hip) and fullback Theo Hernandez (knee) also missed training on Friday and remain doubts. The French physios are apparently satisfied that Tchouameni will be ready in time.
Star striker Karim Benzema was rumoured to be making a shock re-entrance to the squad, having been ruled-out of the tournament before France’s first match with injury.
Tongues began wagging after it was reported by Mundo Deportivo that his club Real Madrid had authorised his release to rejoin the French squad for the final should France manager Didier Deschamps require his services.
The Ballon d’Or winner also posted a video of him working out on a bike to his Twitter with a caption that simply read “Motivation”.
Deschamps opted not to replace the striker, meaning he is still available to play despite flying home from Qatar.
However, the Real Madrid forward ended any more speculation with a moody Instagram post with a caption that translates to “I’m not interested”.
As the 34-year-old was not officially removed from Deschamps’ 26-man squad, he will still get a winners or runners-up medal for France’s efforts in Qatar.
Referee: Szymon Marciniak (Poland)
Goalkeepers – Franco Armani (River Plate), Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa), Geronimo Rulli (Villarreal)
Defenders – Marcos Acuna (Sevilla), Juan Foyth (Villarreal), Lisandro Martinez (Man United), Nahuel Molina (Atletico Madrid), Gonzalo Montiel (Sevilla), Nicolas Otamendi (Benfica), German Pezzella (Real Betis), Cristian Romero (Tottenham), Nicolas Tagliafico (Lyon)
Midfielders – Rodrigo De Paul (Atletico Madrid), Enzo Fernandez (Benfica), Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gomez (Sevilla), Alexis Mac Allister (Brighton), Exequiel Palacios (Bayer Leverkusen), Leandro Paredes (Juventus), Guido Rodriguez (Real Betis)
Forwards – Julian Alvarez (Man City), Thiago Almada** (Atlanta United), Angel Di Maria (Juventus), Paulo Dybala (AS Roma), Angel Correa* (Atletico Madrid), Lautaro Martinez (Inter Milan), Lionel Messi (PSG)
*Replaced the injured Nicolas Gonzalez; **Replaced the injured Joaquin Correa
Goalkeepers – Alphonse Areola (West Ham), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Steve Mandanda (Rennes)
Defenders – Axel Disasi (Monaco), Lucas Hernandez* (Bayern Munich), Theo Hernandez (AC Milan), Ibrahima Konate (Liverpool), Jules Kounde (Barcelona), Benjamin Pavard (Bayern Munich), William Saliba (Arsenal), Dayot Upamecano (Bayern Munich), Raphael Varane (Man United)
Midfielders – Eduardo Camavinga (Real Madrid), Youssouf Fofana (AS Monaco), Matteo Guendouzi (Marseille), Adrien Rabiot (Juventus), Aurelien Tchouameni (Real Madrid), Jordan Veretout (Marseille)
Fowards – Karim Benxema (Real Madrid), Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona), Olivier Giroud (AC Milan), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Kylian Mbappe (PSG), Marcus Thuram (Bor. M’Gladbach), Randal Kolo Muani (Monaco)
*Will miss the rest of the tournament through injury
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Result – Argentina $2.80, Draw $3.10, France $2.70
Normal Time (90 mins plus injury time). Excludes Extra Time and Penalty Shootout
To Lift Trophy – Argentina $.190, France $1.90
Includes Extra Time and Penalty Shootout if played
Odds Courtesy of TAB