FOX Sports insider
AL KHOR, Qatar — That’s how it was supposed to be. For Lionel Messi to have it all – the victory, the story, the fairytale, the ultimate stamp of immortality – this is it.
Here’s the game, the World Cup Final (Sunday 10 a.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app). And this is the right opponent, reigning champions France, and there is no valid argument to argue otherwise.
There could have been spicier and more tribal finals, as if the draw and bracket had lined up to pit Messi and his peers against neighboring rivals Brazil.
There could have been a more historically tinged showdown for the trophy, as if Argentina had faced a former political foe in England.
And there might have been a decider who, in most minds, offered a greater chance of triumph, had Morocco continued on its dream run to make it to the final.
But this is the most fitting title fight and the right way to make it happen. Messi, one of the most extraordinary individual football talents the world will ever know, will find his destiny against the imposing battalion of an almost perfect team.
Breaking the legendary performance of Lionel Messi
France, led by coach Didier Deschamps, has cracked the code on this puzzling puzzle of how players who play virtually all of their time for different clubs can be brought together as a cohesive unit that works with a single mind.
They did it in Russia four years ago, and they’re after it again, and they’re perhaps the only football fans in the world who have zero interest in the sentimentality surrounding Messi’s pursuit of the one worthwhile achievement in football that has eluded him.
By ending Morocco’s delightful semi-final run at Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday, they ended the most enjoyable underdog story of this World Cup.
Messi’s march to even deeper progeny is a different kind of story, one centered around superstar-level excellence rather than against the odds.
Kylian Mbappé and France to the final
Or is it? Because the bookmakers will prefer France this weekend, that’s how it is Les Blues’ level of domination and the way it seems to handle any kind of obstacle.
The truth is that if Deschamps is able to envision a Messi-choking game plan and if his players can execute it – as Germany did in the 2014 showpiece – the European side deserves to shed its mantle of invincibility and have that piece sculpted keep gold. they all play for it.
Eight years ago, Messi had one of the most frustrating nights of his career. He didn’t play badly in the biggest game of all, but the Germans had an answer for everything he did.
Sometimes it was Philip Lahm who crossed his path and slowed his pace. Or Mats Hummels refusing to turn him around in space, or Bastian Schweinsteiger running backwards to restrain and harass him. When at the end of that match at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium, a Mario Goetze goal was the only difference and Messi received the Ballon d’Or awarded to the best player of the tournament, it almost felt like an insult.
France hopes for a similar result.
“Messi has been in sparkling form since the start of the tournament,” said Deschamps. “He picks up the ball a lot and runs with it and is in great shape. Of course he is one of the best in the world and he has shown it. We will try to counter Messi’s threat and prevent him from affecting the ball .” game.”
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They will do this with skill and complexity. Messi, as this is at the root of everything he does, will seek the same. He knows that Deschamps’ mind is buzzing with ways to hold him back, even in the hours following France’s semi-final victory.
And Messi’s brain also ticks away, imagining, predicting and analyzing with precision, so he can play freely and prepared, with the natural joy that makes his game so beloved worldwide.
Lionel Messi wears Argentina
There will be talk of other duels within the final and yes, they are part of it. But France’s master plan for Messi and whether the diminutive maestro has one last World Cup hurray hard enough to conquer it?
Well, there’s the competition. And the fate of the World Cup. And whether Messi’s career resume will forever include football’s greatest prize.
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Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.
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