Outcome of Qatar showdown will come down to how Argentine talisman and Kylian Mbappe perform
I tipped France to win it all before a ball was kicked – and so I’m well in the running to have gotten it spot on for you.
If I have got it wrong, and Argentina triumph, then I won’t be in the slightest bit bothered as Lionel Messi will have reached the pinnacle of his magnificent career and won the World Cup.
Messi may have to do it all himself this afternoon in Doha. For I can see Kylian Mbappe having a big afternoon for the French.
Should that happen, Argentina have only one answer, and only one way, to beat France on the scoreboard.
The ‘Magic Man’ must deliver.
It’s fitting that these two great players should bring the tournament to its close, for they lit up some of the quieter days in the deserts around Doha.
I cannot fool you and try to tell you that it has been a great World Cup.
For that accolade to be awarded you have to have two or three great teams going at it, producing magic matches.
Think West Germany, Holland and Poland in 1974 or Italy, France,West Germany and Brazil in 1982.
Are any of the teams at this World Cup at the level of some of those sides?
Don’t think so. And would either of these teams be in the final if they hadn’t got Mbappe or Messi? Don’t think so either.
Who are the great team at Qatar who somehow didn’t make the final. Eh, there isn’t one.
And what were the classic matches? France-England was a cracker, all right.
Morocco against Spain and Portugal were thrillers, but more because of the sense of occasion rather than the standard of football.
Will any of them ever be remembered the way the way those of us of a certain age still fondly recall Italy-Brazil in 1982 or West Germany-France four years later?
And yet it is all beautifully balanced as we get ready to enjoy this afternoon’s showdown.
Mbappe may be the kid here, but he has a World Cup winner’s medal, and he’s still young enough to have maybe three more chances to get another one if it all goes wrong today.
Lionel Messi has no such escape route.
This is it for the little man, as he tries to carry an Argentinian team that is not as good as some he has played on since 2005 over the finish line.
How do you mark Messi?
More than 15 magnificent years of watching the man strut his stuff have told us it’s impossible.
The French will just try to limit the damage he can cause.
They will hope he can be kept reasonably quiet and might drift further and further away from their penalty area in frustration if things are going wrong.
In that regard, getting a good start has to be a big thing for Didier Deschamps’ team.
Score early and so heap the pressure on Argentina, their players know that most of the world wants them to win for Messi.
All of the other Argentinian players will feel the heat of it being the great man’s last chance.
France will try and get the first goal and put pressure on Argentina to leave openings for a second goal.
That’s the path to glory for a team that I feel has not gotten enough credit for what they have done over the last month.
Paul Pogba, Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante, Christopher Nkunku and Presnel Kimpembe are five top French footballers who are injured for the World Cup.
Then they lost their first choice left-back Lucas Hernandez in the first match.
And yet here they are in the final.
I mean, Olivier Giroud has had a great tournament – he’s in the running for the Golden Boot.
But the AC Milan man would only have been a last-ten-minutes sub for France if Benzema had been fit.
Sometimes that’s what you need to win a World Cup – a player like Giroud who comes along, in a time and place of need, and goes mad for a month.
How do you stop Mbappe? You can’t, because a defender can’t go touch tight on him. He’ll just spin you and be gone.
If you give him two yards and keep him in front of you, then he’ll click that turbo of pace that he has into action in those two yards, and be gone by you.
If I had to mark him, all I could do is give him a yard, then I could see what he might be trying to do.
Then I’d hope that I had team-mates around me all the time, at least make him beat two of you.
Mbappe can do that for sure, but you have some sort of chance when it is two against one.
You have no chance with him on your own.
The issue for Argentina is that doubling up on Mbappe leaves room elsewhere.
For Ousmane Dembele on the right wing, who’s almost as quick as Mbappe, or for Antoine Griezmann to pull the strings in midfield, as he has done so well so far in this World Cup.
This will be an interesting tactical battle too among the managers.
Argentina’s Lionel Scaloni is the youngest manager at the World Cup. And today he comes up against a wily fox in Deschamps, who will have some trick up his sleeve for his opponents.
Might he try Mbappe down the middle for the first 15 minutes, when Argentina are surely planning to double up on him down the right side of their defence?
England showed, with a strong effort from a speedster like Kyle Walker, that you can limit what Mbappe can do.
But while Walker was watching Mbappe on that right wing, it was from out there Griezmann delivered that belter of a cross for Giroud’s winner in the quarter-final.
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
I just have a sneaking feeling that I was right all along and that France are going to break Messi’s heart today.