The storylines are many:
- Lionel Messi vs. Kylian Mbappé
- The race for the Golden Boot (the tournament's top goal-scorer)
When the World Cup brackets first came out and fans saw the possibilities, an Argentina-France final was a dream matchup that many hoped would happen. But soccer is a cruel sport that often dashes dreams. Except this time.
France is the defending champion and no country has won back-to-back World Cup titles in 60 years (Brazil, in 1962, was the last). Les Bleus enter this match on a roll and stocked with talent.
Let's start with Kylian Mbappé.
He's scored five goals this tournament (tied for the most with Messi) and four in 2018. He has unbelievable speed and his ballhandling and trickery are otherworldly. Just 23, the comparisons to Brazil's legendary Pelé continue to pile up (in 2018, Mbappé became the first teenager to score at a World Cup final since Pelé in 1958 and this year he surpassed Pelé's World Cup scoring record for a player under 24 with his 9 total goals). And, unlike Messi, Mbappé has a World Cup title (sorry, it had to be said).
But soccer is a team sport with ten other players on the field. While most attention goes to Mbappé or Olivier Giroud (France's all-time goal leader), one of France's most important players in Qatar has been Antoine Griezmann. Formally an attacker, but sent to the midfield after a bevy of French injuries, Griezmann has shined - charging forward to create scoring opportunities and dropping back to defend. He's kept the team together with his creativity and ingenuity.
Coming into this World Cup – both countries had won this tournament twice before. France (1998 and 2018) and Argentina (1978 and 1986). For Argentina star Lionel Messi it's the lone trophy missing from his illustrious career. The 35-year-old is one of the finest to ever play the game – but he's never been able to say he's a World Cup champion. He made it to the final once before – in 2014 – but Argentina lost to Germany. This is expected to be his last World Cup match.
When he takes the field against France, Messi will set a FIFA record for the most number of games played in a men's World Cup competition: 26. Earlier in the tournament, he scored his 11th goal - the most ever for an Argentinian. He also has had an assist in five World Cups - the first man to do so. Coming into the final, Messi leads in the Golden Boot competition as the tournament's top goal-scorer. While Messi and Mbappé have each scored five goals, Messi has an edge in the tiebreak (three assists to Mbappé's two).
Messi is in an elite club - but despite all his records and success, he will always be in the shadow of the great Argentine Diego Maradona - unless he can win a World Cup trophy for his country.
The game will kickoff at 10a ET on Sunday. In the U.S., it will be televised on Fox and Telemundo.