Can Argentina complete the final step and win the World Cup?
One last game at this World Cup, France vs Argentina in a matchup of two of the game's greatest players currently. The veteran Lionel Messi against his club teammate Kylian Mbappe, although both of these teams are more than just their star. The supporting cast for France in the attack is strong, but Argentina is the more well-rounded team defensively.
Lionel Scaloni went with a four-man central midfield to deny Croatia's talented midfield trio breathing space. France presents a different set of challenges, but Scaloni has shown throughout this tournament that he will shift pieces around to suit the match on the day.
Early reports have been centered around a return to the 3 CB-setup that Argentina deployed from the start against the Netherlands. Will this be impacted by today's news that Olivier Giroud is battling a knee injury and Didier Deschamps is thinking about playing Mbappe through the middle as the #9? Perhaps, but it feels like the 3-5-2/5-3-2 is more about providing cover for Mbappe's pace rather than a tactical matchup issue.
Scaloni would like the chances of his 3-man midfield to outplay the French trio. Griezmann has been incredible in this tourament, one of the best players period. If Argentina can make him have to sit deeper to defend by controlling the midfield, that is a win. It makes France more of a 1v1 team with Dembele and Mbappe, which again lends itself to having an extra body back there to help.
The battle of the match in my opinion is on the French left/Argentine right. Theo Hernandez has been a revelation in the French squad since replacing his injured brother Lucas. His attacking play has helped open up more space for Mbappe and has been a huge weapon. However, defensively he is more of a liability than his brother. That side of the pitch is where Lionel Messi likes to pick up possession. Nahuel Molina as a right wing back can create problems on the break for Argentina as well. Does France try to have Hernandez sit at home more to limit the space for Messi? My guess is yes, but will he have the tactical discipline to do it for 90 minutes? There will likely be at least one key opportunity to get behind him for Argentina and they have to make it count.
Julian Alvarez's movement off the ball is critical for Argentina. His willingness to make runs in behind opens up space for everyone else and is a must against a fairly passive France defense. Space can be created by quick passing, but movement off the ball will be critical for Argentina on the day.
From a tactical perspective, I love what Scaloni has done in this tournament and trust that he'll make the right decisions on Sunday. Both teams will have their opportunities, but I like Argentina's chances of limiting the French attack more than other teams have in the tournament. And I especially like the Argentine chances of punishing a somewhat shaky French defense.
This could be a final for the ages. The last great final we've seen at the World Cup was 1986. Argentina jumped out to a 2-0 lead against West Germany, before conceding two goals from set pieces to make it 2-2 late. Then, it was a moment of magic by Diego Maradona to spring Jorge Burruchaga for the match-winner.
Is Messi capable of one more match of magic for his beloved Argentina? Or will it be Griezmann and Mbappe who provide the wizardry for France? I can't imagine the match will be a dud, even if it might be a bit of a slow burn in the first half.
It's been a fun tournament on the field, let's see how it finishes on Sunday.