FLOW Qatar Spotlight | South America vs Europe, Messi vs Mbappé, and a third-place playoff classic
Epic clash between South America, Europe
Barring the referee spoiling Sunday’s World Cup final with soft or dubious penalty calls, it promises to be epic. One for the ages.
It will be South America versus Europe, defending champion France against South American champions Argentina, Lionel Messi, the best player over the last decade versus Kylian Mbappé, the man aiming to fill his boots.
Will Messi get his fairytale ending and win a World Cup title he so covets or will Mbappe and France create history by becoming the first nation to win back-to-back titles since in 1962? Let's see who deserves the crown, may the best man/team win.
No holding back from Morrocco, Croatia
Three goals in the first half decided Croatia would be the third best team at this World Cup, a fantastic one, in Qatar.
I thought the third-place playoff would produce some good football and it did. Morocco, a good team to watch going forward, had their defensive strength overshadow that fact, and Croatia’s determination hid the wonderful fluidity they have. I thought this game would have been an opportunity to showcase the less heralded qualities of the teams and, again, it did.
Morocco put Croatia under pressure with their quick wing play through Hakim Ziyech and Achraf Hakimi, but Croatia gave as good as they got. Benching Borna Sosa, giving Ivan Perišić duties at left back proved a master stroke. Unfortunately, there was no Marcelo Brozović in midfield, which would have added another dimension to Croatia’s attack, but in the end, they had enough quality to persevere.
It was a good way to sign off the World Cup career of a truly remarkable midfielder in Luka Modric. In 19 games at the World Cup over the course of three, he has hardly put a foot wrong.
Morrocco also ended a World Cup where they were almost perfect and showed with the number of players they have on the right side of 30, they could be back to create wonderful surprises and drive the rise of African football.
Best player in the world vs the best player ever
Daniel Wheeler/Gleaner Writer
While listening to the Morally Abhorent World Cup podcast previewing the 2022 World Cup final a few days ago, a commenter billed the France-Argentina clash as "The best player in the world (Kylian Mbappe) vs The best player of all time (Lionel Messi)." In a sense its more than that. But it cannot be understated that Sunday's final will have legacy-defining implications for the victor, considering how they got to this point.
A 2-1 opening defeat to Saudi Arabia was not the precursor to failure for Argentina that many feared. Instead, it was the fuel that got them into knockout mode from the second game onward. Lionel Messi’s imprint on this campaign cannot be doubted. Five goals and three assists for the little magician with arguably the best team Messi has had since he began his esteemed international career.
Emi Martinez, who has been immense in goal, Rodrigo de Paul, Alexis Mac Allister and Enzo Fernandez, solid in midfield. And with Julian Alvarez being the wingman Messi has longed for with four goals in the tournament.
Messi doesn’t have to run the show.
He now has a team that can support him while in the crucial moments. Keeping Mbappé in check will be a fitting final task for the defence.
Thirty-six years Argentina have waited for a third star on the crest. And in possibly his final World Cup game, Messi has the chance to finish his international chapter with the only title left unclaimed.
The one that, for many, has him still chasing the ghost of the late Diego Maradona who won it for the Albiceleste in 1986.
France getting back to the final is incredible in itself. Especially because this French team is not even at full strength. They are without Karim Benzema, N’golo Kante, Paul Pogba, Christopher Nkunku, Presnel Kimpembe and Lucas Hernandez.
Flu has plagued the team leading to even more changes. And yet, France have not wilted. Their depth has passed every test put in front of them and its a credit to Didier Deschamps that he has got him team hitting its mark when it matters. Olivier Giroud has done it his way, leading the line and Mbappé dazzling, tied with Messi for the golden boot race with five goals. The French predicament is more or less can they keep Messi quiet as well as limit Alvarez from having an impact? History beckons for France as they are on the verge of being the first repeat champions since Brazil 60 years ago. Mbappé could win two World Cups before age 24. The only person to do that was Pele, also 60 years ago.
Their last World Cup meeting four years ago was a World Cup classic, a 4-3 win for the eventual champions in the round of 16. Four years on, it is a fitting finale that the world deserves with legacy and history at stake. Which destiny will be realised? It will be either Messi's crowning glory or Mbappe's acsension.
The limitations of expectation and the rise of Africa
Head Coach of Croatia Zlatko Dalić while speaking in his post assessment, following his team’s 2-1 victory over Morocco to claim the Bronze medal at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar said the following, “This is the last World Cup for some of my players due to their age.”,
My mind quickly thought “could this be the last time that I’m seeing Luka on the World Cup stage?” Well, nothing in life last forever and if it should be so, I’m glad I got the opportunity to witness the little genius at work in my lifetime. Modrić showed the world that one’s expectation of you, and your expectations for yourself can be completely different. Numerous armchair experts and lovers of the game would have thought that Russia 2018 was all we would have gotten. Though he didn’t make it back to the finals, Modrić and Croatia surprised many and with little or no fanfare.
Morocco also inspired many as they completed Africa’s best finish at the FIFA World Cup. The names of every player who made the World Cup squad will be etched in the history of Moroccan football forever. The shockwaves throughout the continent threaten to lift African football and create a real headache for the dominant Europe and South America. Modrić, if this is it, walk well my friend. Morocco you’ve set the bar high, now it’s just for us to follow.