Of the 32 teams that came to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup, only two remain.
This game is loaded with history and legacy-making stakes. Both countries have won two World Cups in their history. France are trying to become the first country to win consecutive titles since Brazil did it in 1958 and 1962.
Argentina’s Lionel Messi is already the GOAT. The one thing missing from his trophy case is a World Cup title. This is likely his last chance at winning Argentina’s first World Cup since 1986.
The final is being played in Lusail. Here are the top moments and biggest plays from the World Cup final.
Half-time: Argentina 2-0 France, and Messi is 45 minutes from destiny
Well, it’s been a while since we’ve seen a World Cup final look this lopsided, but so far so good for Messi & Co. as they take a comfortable lead into the break. They’ve attacked decisively, defended with little trouble and have completely taken Kylian Mbappe out of the game to the extent that France coach Didier Deschamps made two substitutions before half-time in a bid to rescue this game.
Olivier Giroud (anonymous up front) and Dembele (who conceded the penalty) were withdrawn after that spectacular second Argentina goal, but will it make a difference? Argentina had over 60% of the ball in the first half, plus six shots to zero. Their halftime xG (1.46) feels right given their performance.
Teams leading by multiple goals at halftime of men’s World Cup KO stage games are 25-0-0 👀 pic.twitter.com/dk6eyjlyXD
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) December 18, 2022
Is there a way back into the game for France? The subs (Marcus Thuram, Randal Kolo Muani) were added to try to give Les Bleus some more control in the middle of the field and more pace out wide, while also pushing Mbappe into a more central attacking role where he can hopefully get more possession and more opportunities to run into space. It’s a bold gambit by Deschamps, but he’s got no choice. There’s no do-overs in the World Cup final, and you’ve got to wait four years for a chance at redemption. — James Tyler
What a goal! Argentina 2-0 France!
OH MY WHAT A GOAL 😱
2-0 ARGENTINA 🇦🇷 pic.twitter.com/rBH0HSCyFJ
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 18, 2022
35th minute: Angel Di Maria, who was a surprise starter for Argentina having been featured little during the knockout round, has doubled their advantage in the World Cup final. Messi, Julian Alvarez and Alexis Mac Allister combine in a brilliant counter-attack from one end of the pitch to the other, and Di Maria is there to receive the final pass, take a touch and finesse it beyond a helpless Lloris.
Les Bleus have not looked like the defending champions at all in this competition, but have always been fortunate at key moments in the knockout stages. But Argentina and Messi don’t look to be in a giving mood. — Tyler
Another record for Messi
With that penalty, the iconic No. 10 becomes the first men’s player to score in all four knockout rounds of the World Cup, having scored against Australia (round of 16), Netherlands (quarterfinal), Croatia (semifinal) and now France in the final. — Tyler
Messi scores from the penalty spot! Argentina 1-0 France!
MESSI PUTS ARGENTINA OUT IN FRONT 🎯🇦🇷 pic.twitter.com/kZkUvRUXC9
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 18, 2022
22nd minute: Not long after France’s first attempt on goal, Argentina attack quickly and win a penalty as Ousmane Dembele tripped Angel Di Maria after the winger had made his way into the box from the left flank. The referee doesn’t hesitate to point to the spot and up steps Messi … who calmly sends Lloris the wrong way with a low sidefooted effort into the right corner!
Messi’s 12th goal at a World Cup final could be his most important one of all as they take the lead. Fair to say they’ll need more goals … — Tyler
Hey, we know them
Les Bleus’ own Paul Pogba — who has been absent from France’s Qatar run due to a thigh injury suffered in October — is in the stands cheering on his teammates alongside Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimović.
Pogba and Zlatan at the #FIFAWorldCup pic.twitter.com/rMp4M9BGXu
— GQ Sports (@GQSports) December 18, 2022
France gets its first chance at goal
20th minute: Another spell of Argentina pressure ends in frustration as a low cross from the right is missed entirely by Messi and makes its way to Di Maria on the left side of the box, who blasts it into the crowd. Moments later, Les Bleus answer with a spell of pressure and get a free kick in a dangerous spot to the left of goal. Olivier Giroud wins the header but climbs over two defenders to reach the ball. — Tyler
Trouble for France?
11th minute: France’s nerves continue to show in the opening exchanges, and we’ve had our first big opportunity of the day. Some clever approach play by Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria culminates in a clear shot for Rodrigo De Paul, whose low shot is deflected wide for a corner. The French fail to clear, but when the ball comes back into the box, Lloris takes a hard hit from Argentina defender Cristian Romero — on replay, he was clearly shoved into the France goalkeeper by Upamecano — as the ball was in the air within yards of the goal.
Lloris is still down, receiving medical attention after the hit. In a cruel twist, Romero plays for the same club (Tottenham Hotspur) as Lloris. After some minutes on the ground, Lloris is back on his feet and staying in the game. — Tyler
Both teams are showing that raw energy and nerve that you’d expect from playing in the biggest game in the world’s biggest sport with national pride on the line. France’s Adrien Rabiot and Argentina’s De Paul foul each other in the opening two minutes, French winger Ousmane Dembele miscontrols an easy pass and then his teammate Dayot Upamecano puts an elbow into Lionel Messi as the pair challenge for a header. (Not something Messi should be doing, as he’s 6 inches shorter than the France defender, but there you go).
France look nervous and have given Argentina a couple of early chances to shoot, but nothing that Lloris couldn’t handle between the posts. — Tyler
In the traditional pregame renditions of the national anthem, you’d have to give the edge to Argentina based on how ferociously the players sang every word. France took a more stoic tone, it seems, singing clearly but not overextending even as the tune reached its rousing crescendo. A very businesslike effort by the defending champions. — Tyler
Another Messi record
Te seguimos, capitán 🔟 pic.twitter.com/uFafuDmoAm
— Selección Argentina 🇦🇷 (@Argentina) December 18, 2022
Before a ball has even been kicked in the final, Lionel Messi has set a FIFA record for the most all-time appearances in the men’s tournament. Today marks his 26th game at a World Cup final: Will it be the one in which he finally gets to hold the trophy? — Tyler
After a scary few days in which several players were suffering from a flu-like virus, the entire France squad is fit and eligible for selection. Therefore coach Didier Deschamps has named the same XI that started the quarterfinal against England, with Dayot Upamecano and Adrien Rabiot both back in the team. This is also a 20th World Cup final appearance for goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, which is a record for his position.
La Feuille de match et la compo des Argentins 👊#ARGFRA #FiersdetreBleus pic.twitter.com/OfUxvYJaNs
— Equipe de France ⭐⭐ (@equipedefrance) December 18, 2022
As for Argentina, veteran winger Angel Di Maria is back in the team, replacing Leandro Paredes. Di Maria hasn’t featured much since the group stages; will coach Lionel Scaloni be praised and hated for the move? — Tyler
Argentina and France are two of only eight nations to win the men’s World Cup, and they are both seeking their third title in Qatar. Whoever wins, Brazil’s status as the most successful team in the competition’s history with five wins will remain intact (though that will be cold comfort for Neymar & Co. as they watch their rivals contest the final today).
Argentina are in their sixth final, since they lost the inaugural showpiece 4-2 to hosts Uruguay in 1930. They won it on home soil in 1978 and — inspired by Diego Maradona — again in Mexico in 1986, but after losses in the final in 1990 and 2014, the Albiceleste will be desperate to avoid a hat trick of final heartbreak.
France, meanwhile, are going for their third World Cup triumph in a quarter century. After winning the trophy as hosts in 1998, they were back again in 2006 but lost on penalties to Italy (in a shootout which followed the headbutt from Zinedine Zidane on Marco Materazzi). Their victory over Croatia in 2018 gives them the chance to become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to retain the title. — Tony Mabert
Despite meeting in the first World Cup in 1930, this is only the fourth time these two sides have met in the tournament. Argentina won that first clash in Uruguay 1-0 en route to the final, before claiming a 2-1 win in 1978, which led to their first title.
However, their most recent meeting at the last World Cup went France’s way. Les Bleus won a truly wild 4-3 clash in the round of 16 in Russia. Kylian Mbappe won a penalty for Antoine Griezmann to score the opening goal, and later got two himself, but not before Angel Di Maria and Benjamin Pavard each scored one of the top goals of the tournament. The highlights are well worth a watch. We can only hope for anything close to a repeat at Lusail today. — Mabert