The 2022 FIFA World Cup Final is set.
After 63 matches in Qatar, what began as a 32-team field is now down to a pair of heavyweights.
On one side is the defending champion and FIFA’s No. 4-ranked side in France, which fended off Morocco 2-0 in the semifinals to keep its title defense alive. Les Bleus are the first reigning champion to reach the final since Brazi in 1998. Next, they’ll try to become the first repeat winner since Brazil all the way back in 1962.
And on the other side is FIFA’s No. 3-ranked side in Argentina, which disposed of 2018 runner-up Croatia 3-0 in the semis to reach its first final since 2014. Lionel Messi and La Albiceleste have their sights set on Argentina’s first title since 1986.
So, which nation will take home soccer’s most prestigious trophy? Here are five players who could decide the outcome of Sunday’s final at Lusail Stadium.
Lionel Messi, Argentina
Messi will be the center of attention in the final. The PSG superstar has racked up all kinds of major accolades: Ballon d’Ors, Champions League titles, La Liga titles, among many others. But in what will be the final World Cup match of his legendary career, Messi has the chance to make a major addition to his loaded resume.
The 35-year-old is set to make history by simply playing in the final, as he’ll surpass Germany’s Lothar Matthäus for the most appearances in World Cup history with 26. Messi has made more history in Qatar, too. With his penalty kick score versus Croatia, Messi became Argentina’s all-time scoring leader at the World Cup with 11 goals.
Messi could leave Qatar with additional hardware beyond the World Cup trophy. He enters the match tied atop the Golden Boot leaderboard with France’s Kylian Mbappe with five goals. Messi, who’s dished out three assists as well, is also in the running for the Golden Ball as the tournament’s top player, an honor he claimed in 2014 when Argentina fell to Germany in the final.
Julian Alvarez, Argentina
Alvarez has been one of the breakout stars in Qatar. The 22-year-old Manchester City forward didn’t even crack the starting XI in Argentina’s first two matches. But what a game-changer he’s been for La Albiceleste since.
Alvarez has started the last four games and scored in three of them. He tallied the deciding goal in a 2-1 victory over Australia in the round of 16 and provided his team with a pair of insurance goals in the semifinals.
Despite not starting in two games, Alvarez is tied with France’s Olivier Giroud for third in the Golden Boot race with four goals, just one score behind Mbappe and Messi.
Kylian Mbappe, France
Mbappe got off to a torrid start to the World Cup with three total goals and one assist in France’s first two games. He then supplied two goals and an assist to power Les Bleus’ 3-1 round of 16 win over Poland, besting his four-goal output from the 2018 tournament in the process.
While the 23-year-old PSG megastar hasn’t found the back of the net in consecutive games, he’s always a threat to score thanks to his blazing pace. So, will Mbappe, who’s now up to five goals and two assists, repeat history and score in the World Cup Final just like he did in 2018?
Olivier Giroud, France
When France lost Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema to injury ahead of the World Cup, the defending champs needed Olivier Giroud to step up — and he’s delivered.
After failing to score during the 2018 title run, Giroud has a chance to take home the Golden Boot. The 36-year-old AC Milan center-forward scored twice in a 4-1 win over Australia in the opener and has added another two goals in the knockout stage. Giroud recorded the opening goal in the round of 16 to become France’s all-time leading scorer and tallied the game-winner in the 78th minute of a 2-1 quarterfinal win over England.
Antoine Griezmann, France
Watch Griezmann in action, and you see a player who should be right up there in the Golden Ball conversation. Griezmann has played a vital role in feeding a France attack that’s scored the most goals from open play in Qatar (13), while also chipping in as a defender in the middle of the park.
The 31-year-old Atletico Madrid midfielder assisted on both of France’s goals in the quarterfinals and was named Player of the Match with a tremendous all-around effort in the semifinals.
Griezmann was Player of the Match in the 2018 World Cup Final with a goal and two assists. Does he have another masterclass in store against Argentina?