David Trezeguet admits Sunday's World Cup final will be "difficult personally" as the France World Cup winner with Argentine roots finds himself pulling for Lionel Messi.

Former Juventus star Trezeguet is torn by his loyalties to each country, but his feeling is that Messi deserves to be a World Cup winner and needs this more than Kylian Mbappe.

The Paris Saint-Germain team-mates are shaping to be the principal players in the Lusail Stadium drama that will unfold, with 35-year-old Messi seeking his first triumph at this level while 23-year-old Mbappe chases his second winner's medal.

Trezeguet was a champion with Les Bleus in 1998, having elected to play for France, where he was born, over Argentina, from where his parents hailed.

Looking at the position Messi finds himself in, Trezeguet told TyC Sports "I repeat it continuously, for me emotionally, knowing that it will be his last World Cup, Leo deserves to be champion.

"He makes people dream, this does not take away from France's ambition to want to keep the title.

"France came to be world champion, there is no doubt. Here the difference is age, Leo is at the end of his career, Mbappe has just started and will set all kinds of records.

"Together at PSG they are the perfect combination, but Argentina plays for Messi, everything goes through him.

"It's difficult personally, emotionally. Something I didn't want, but hey, this has to be a party and it's a great final. 

"It is what we all expected, due to characteristics, history, they are the two best teams in the World Cup."

Trezeguet could be overtaken by Mbappe on the list of France's all-time highest goalscorers on Sunday.

Presently, Mbappe has 33 goals for his country from 65 games, one shy of Trezeguet's career haul of 34 in 71 international matches.

While Trezeguet will be able to celebrate either victory, there will be broken-hearted players on one side come the end of the final.

His admiration for Mbappe is fulsome, and Trezeguet believes the forward and his bullish ways only bode well for his long-term prospects.

"He has a healthy ambition, he wants to be better than Messi, that's his motivation," Trezeguet said. "Living in everyday life with Leo and Neymar [at PSG] makes him learn."

France coach Didier Deschamps is unperturbed about the prospect of Les Bleus playing the role of party poopers in Lionel Messi's quest to finally win the World Cup in Sunday's final.

Messi has already confirmed the showpiece game at Lusail Stadium will be his last ever outing at the World Cup.

In that sense, it is the last opportunity he has to win the only major trophy he is yet to lift, potentially cementing his status as the "greatest of all time".

For many, Messi needs to win the World Cup to ensure his legacy outstrips that of Albiceleste great Diego Maradona.

As such, there is undoubtedly huge anticipation surrounding Argentina's prospects in the final, but Deschamps – whose France side are bidding to become the first European side to retain the World Cup since 1938 – is not worried about the likelihood of it feeling like it is France against the world.

Asked if he got the feeling France were "alone" in that respect, Deschamps said: "I often get that feeling, but I'm fine being alone, that doesn't bother me. These uncertainties always arise.

"We are here, we've done all we can to be well-prepared for the game against Argentina.

"Lionel Scaloni has also had some challenges; they lost their first match to Saudi Arabia, of course, but they are still here.

"And like us, we haven't had to face everyone in this tournament, but in the games we've played, we've managed to come out as victors.

"I don't have any particular worries or stresses for [the final]. I think when you prepare for a game like this, you need to keep your focus, remain composed, and with a World Cup final in particular you have the match but also the context around it.

"The objective is to come out with the title. I know Argentina and many people around the world, perhaps some French people as well, will hope Messi will win the World Cup, but we will do everything we can to achieve our objective."

Ahead of the World Cup, there was uncertainty around the future of Deschamps.

Despite leading Les Bleus to the Euro 2016 final, Russia 2018 success and the final in Qatar, Deschamps is not universally popular among France fans.

There was a feeling before the tournament that an unimpressive campaign would lead to Deschamps' departure, with Zinedine Zidane lying in wait to replace his former team-mate.

French Football Federation (FFF) chief Noel Le Graet said at the start of the week that he wants Deschamps to stay, with Euro 2024 only 18 months away.

Regardless of what the future holds for Deschamps, he does not think everything hinges on the final.

"Being France manager has always been the most wonderful thing that's happened to me in my career," he said.

"I played for France and that was a wonderful achievement, but to be a coach for so long has been a tremendous opportunity.

"I'm delighted to be France coach but the most important thing is the team, not me, I'm at their service.

"It's all about the team, not me, I'm not the most important person here. It won't depend on tomorrow's result, that's not what I'm thinking about.

"I'm just focusing to ensure we do everything we can to win the World Cup."

France head coach Didier Deschamps says his team is "remaining calm and focused" despite an illness outbreak ahead of Sunday's World Cup final.

Les Bleus were without Adrien Rabiot and Dayot Upamecano for Wednesday's 2-0 semi-final win over Morocco due to a sickness bug among the squad.

The French Football Federation confirmed on Friday that defensive pair Raphael Varane and Ibrahima Konate had missed training through illness, after Deschamps said on Thursday that Kingsley Coman had felt unwell.

Speaking at a press conference on the eve of the final against Argentina, Deschamps seemed relaxed and confirmed he was feeling well himself.

"I'm absolutely fine," he said. "As for the players, I left quite early this morning, they were all still asleep so I have no recent updates.

"We are trying to manage the situation as well as we can, remaining calm and focused. I'll get more information today and think about it today and maybe even tomorrow.

"I don't want to go into details. I know it's a subject that's of interest to you and I fully understand that but we are doing our best to take precautions and adapt as necessary.

"We are trying to live with it without going too far, getting too carried away, just doing what's necessary.

"We'd have preferred not to face this difficulty but we are facing it as best we can with our medical staff."

France captain Hugo Lloris also seemed in fine shape when addressing the press, but also did not have any information on the condition of his team-mates.

"I have not got any more news since last night because everyone was still in their rooms when I got up, I haven't seen anyone," he said. 

"I'm sure you'll get more info by the next training session.

"We never really prepared for this type of thing, but we will try to get ready for the match the best we can.

"These are things we weren't prepared for but we remain focused, and of course we are very excited about playing in a World Cup final."

Most World Cups have one truly iconic player who is intrinsically linked to that tournament for eternity, a standout star head and shoulders above the rest.

Pele had 1958 and 1970, Diego Maradona had 1986. There was Paolo Rossi in 1982, while Ronaldo was arguably that man in both 1998 and 2002.

But there aren't many instances of a World Cup final having two players vying for a victory that would have seismic consequences on their respective legacies. Or at least not to this degree.

Qatar 2022's final is France against Argentina, but it's more than that. It's also Kylian Mbappe v Lionel Messi.

Both are teetering on the precipice of achievements that'll long outlive them, and it all rides on one match.

Messi's last chance

For many, there is no debate.

"Sometimes as Argentinians it of course looks like we say it just because we are Argentinian. Maybe it's selfish [but] I don't have any doubt saying that: Messi is the best in history," Lionel Scaloni said after the 3-0 semi-final win over Croatia.

But it's not just Argentinians.

His goals and assists record should be enough to settle the discussion on its own, but beyond that, when you think about what defines a good footballer in the simplest sense, for most it comes down to technical ability; literally being a good footballer.

Of course, being a professional player is a bit more nuanced than that and perhaps such simplicity is biased in favour of forwards, but the majority of football spectators don't pay their money to see great defenders.

In addition to his goals and assists, Messi's natural ability should swing any debate in his favour, yet there remains a popular suggestion he will not be regarded as the greatest of all time until he's won the World Cup.

To some, the fact he's been the key player behind almost countless successes in all the biggest club competitions he's played in – some of which are arguably a higher level than the World Cup – isn't enough.

No, until he's done what Maradona did in inspiring Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986, this defiance to accept Messi as the greatest will linger – and that's not up for debate.

Messi confirmed – or rather reiterated – after the semi-final that Qatar 2022 will be his last World Cup, and he seems to be playing with a vengeance.

Let's not forget, before this tournament, he'd never scored a World Cup goal beyond the group stage; on Tuesday he became the first Argentina player to net in three different knockout rounds of the tournament.

And if you look at the quality he's producing, there's an insistence to leave no stone unturned. Just take his defence-splitting assist against the Netherlands, for instance, or the brilliant run that left Josko Gvardiol – one of the finest young defenders in world football – in knots before teeing up Julian Alvarez against Croatia.

World Cup success would finally render Messi's detractors defenceless.

The King?

Will Mbappe ever be considered the greatest of all time ahead of Messi? As incredible as he is, it seems unlikely at this point.

Obviously, that shouldn't be seen as criticism of Mbappe, rather an indicator of Messi's remarkable ability and longevity.

But as the debate around Messi proves, historically we view football success – and the sport's all-time greats – through the prism of World Cup success.

Maybe that'll change over the coming years because club football has only become more advanced, but perhaps it won't.

After all, the World Cup will likely always be the greatest and most-watched sporting spectacle on Earth.

Success for Mbappe on Sunday will give him two World Cup triumphs before the age of 24, the age he turns on Tuesday. Pele won his second at 21, so he is little behind the Brazil great, who went on to win a record three.

However, context is key. Pele played only two matches at the 1962 World Cup due to injury and did not feature in the final; if France win, Mbappe will have had an inspirational impact on two triumphs.

Again, this isn't about saying whether Mbappe is better than Pele or not, instead how the young Frenchman will be perceived historically in the future.

Playing a central part in two World Cup successes before the age of 24 is something no one has done before.

For many, Pele is regarded as the greatest World Cup player ever, perhaps the player most synonymous with the tournament.

His is a legacy that will stand the test of time, but victory on Sunday would have Mbappe on course to rival – potentially even overthrow – him as 'The King' of the World Cup.

Lionel Messi has had a career most could barely even dream about, let alone achieve.

And yet, the greatest prize of all has continued to elude him – the closest he has come to being a World Cup champion was in 2014 when Argentina were beaten 1-0 by Germany in the final in Brazil.

The magician has one last chance to right that wrong when Argentina face off against France in Sunday's showpiece in Qatar, the perfect stage to put the cherry on top of the cake.

But standing in his way is another Paris Saint-Germain megastar in the form of Kylian Mbappe, whose Les Bleus side know how to get the job done having been crowned winners four years ago in Russia.

So, will it be Messi walking off into the World Cup sunset finally a champion on international football's biggest stage? Or is it the younger pretender's time to further enshrine himself as a legend of the tournament?

Two Stats Perform writers, John Skilbeck and Pete Hanson, argue the toss prior to Sunday's final.


Messi's time has finally arrived – John Skilbeck

No pressure, Leo, but it's now or never. You'll take now, you say?

Sunday will be an extraordinary day in an extraordinary life as Messi chases the crowning glory that has eluded him until now.

The great Messi will at last be a World Cup winner if he and Argentina can get the better of a France team who will not relinquish the trophy easily.

He's been on this very brink before, of course, with Argentina beaten by Germany in the 2014 final. So what's changed? And why will it be a different story this time?

Put simply, Messi needs this more than anyone who will be on the pitch on Sunday. He needs it, and he not only knows what it takes now, but he is performing at a level to take this into his own hands.

You can look at those 672 goals and 35 trophies for Barcelona, the silverware he has added at PSG, and even the Copa America he won with Argentina last year, and you can marvel.

But ending his career without a World Cup triumph would be treachery to his talent, and collectively Argentina know they must rise for their captain, do the spade work to help him over the line this time.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic says it is "already written" that Messi will lift the trophy, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic often talks bunkum. On a more evidence-based level, Messi is in great shape. He has five goals and three assists at this World Cup, with that combined total of eight goal involvements higher than anyone else's tally.

Three of those strikes were penalties, of course, and he should really be on six goals, given the spot-kick he failed to convert against Poland. But Messi is making things happen. He has created 18 chances so far (only Antoine Griezmann, with 21, has created more) and played 88 forward passes and 39 passes into the final third, in both cases the most of all players classed as forwards by Opta.

Sunday is his last World Cup match. The greatest player of his generation knows what he must do. He's ready for this, and so is all of Argentina. Messi is finally ready to move alongside Maradona in the Albiceleste pantheon.


Football has no time for sentiment, Mbappe will deny Messi's moment – Pete Hanson

The greatest of all time debate throws up some strange oddities, particularly on social media. 

I can completely accept that it is subjective, yet to suggest Messi finally getting his hands on the World Cup would not enhance his own claims is, frankly, absurd.

For what it's worth, I think, regardless of the outcome at the Lusail Stadium, Messi has done enough to prove he sits atop the mountain.

And yet, I fear, Sunday will not provide Messi the World Cup swansong he and football romantics the world over so desperately desire, and it is a man he knows well from Paris Saint-Germain who will instead further entrench his legacy with football's greatest tournament.

Kylian Mbappe has some way to go to matching Messi's genius in the domestic game and at some point you feel he will have to leave the home comforts of Paris, but in the here and now he is the leading light in a well-oiled Les Bleus machine that simply wins the big moments.

Julian Alvarez aside, Messi's supporting cast has not been the best in Qatar. An opening-game loss to Saudi Arabia has long been forgotten but had it not been for their diminutive superstar dragging them through the tournament it feels unlikely Argentina would have made the knockout stages, let alone the final.

Mbappe, conversely, can rely on a much more rounded threat. Antoine Griezmann has legitimate claims for the Golden Ball himself, Olivier Giroud – now his country's leading goalscorer – provides the perfect foil for more technical players, and the industry of Aurelien Tchouameni can keep Didier Deschamps' men ticking.

France were not always convincing against England nor much more – if at all – against Morocco, but crucially they have a canny knack of getting the job done at the most crucial times in a match.

In Mbappe, whose five goals are matched only by Messi, they have the ideal man to deny football's best ever his greatest moment.

Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe have dominated the 2022 World Cup.

Both have been the driving forces behind Argentina and France's respective runs to the final.

And the Paris Saint-Germain team-mates are not just vying for glory for their nations in Sunday's showdown at Lusail Stadium.

The Golden Ball award – for the best outfield player at the tournament – as well as the Golden Boot, are up for grabs.

But what do the Opta numbers say ahead of the mouth-watering clash?

 

Game time

The pair have both appeared in all six of their side's games in Qatar. However, while Mbappe came on from the bench in France's surprise loss to Tunisia at the end of the group stage, Messi has played every minute for Argentina, which is quite extraordinary given his age.

Naturally, it's Messi – set to become the all-time leading appearance-maker in World Cup history when he takes to the field on Sunday – who comes out on top for minutes played, with 570 to Mbappe's 477.

 

Goals

It's five goals apiece heading into the final, though it's worth noting three of Messi's strikes have come from the penalty spot, whereas Mbappe has scored all of his goals from open play.

Messi has averaged a goal every 114 minutes, while his club-mate has registered one every 95 minutes. Both players have outperformed their expected goals (xG), albeit Mbappe, whose xG stands at 3.46 in contrast to Messi's 4.75, more so.

The 35-year-old is now Argentina's all-time leading scorer at the World Cup, with 11 goals, while should he score against France he will become the first player to find the net in the group stage, the round of 16, the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final in a single edition of the tournament.

A goal involvement will also make Messi the first player to record 20 at the competition (since 1966), while if Mbappe scores he will be the youngest player to net in multiple World Cup finals (at the age of 23 years and 363 days). That would also make France's main man surpass the late Gerd Muller as the youngest player to hit 10 World Cup goals.

Shooting

The duo are incredibly close in this category, too. Messi has taken 27 shots, two more than his opposite number, who boasts a slightly better shot conversion rate (20 per cent compared to 19). Mbappe has hit the target 11 times, with Messi doing so on 14 occasions - a tournament high.

Creativity

Assists are not always the best barometer for assessing a player's creativity, of course. Messi does edge out Mbappe in this statistic (three assists to two), but the differential is greater in terms of chances created – Argentina's talisman has crafted 18 goalscoring opportunities to Mbappe's 11.

Messi's expected assists (xA) of 1.63 suggests the finishing of his Argentina team-mates from the opportunities he has provided has exceeded expectations, while Mbappe has also outperformed his xA (1.23).

It's Mbappe who leads the tournament for involvement in open play shot-ending sequences, with 45. Unsurprisingly, Messi is a close second (43); Antoine Griezmann is third, with 13 fewer such involvements.

With his assist for Julian Alvarez's goal against Croatia on Tuesday, Messi matched Diego Maradona's record of eight assists in World Cup finals (since such data is available from 1966 onwards). 

Across the last two World Cups, Messi and Mbappe are the players to have generated the most chances following a carry – moving at least five metres with the ball – with 27 and 22 respectively. 

 

On the ball

Neither player is renowned for his off-the-ball work, but in possession is when they turn on the style.

Messi is the focus of Argentina's play, and that's reflected by his 432 touches; Mbappe, in comparison, has had 319 touches. However, it is the France forward who has had more touches in the opposition's box (58 to 37).

Of Messi's 294 passes, 249 (84.7 per cent) have been accurate, a slight improvement on Mbappe's 82.7 per cent accuracy. 

Mbappe has played 83 successful passes ending in the final third, way down on Messi's total of 121.

It is the 23-year-old who has completed more dribbles (21 to 15), though Messi edges it out for duels won, winning 39 to Mbappe's 29.

Karim Benzema took to social media with a cryptic message saying he is "not interested" just two days ahead of France's World Cup final showdown with Argentina.

Real Madrid striker Benzema was ruled out of Qatar 2022 on the eve of the tournament due to a thigh injury he aggravated in training.

There had been suggestions the reigning Ballon d'Or winner could link back up with the squad having recovered from the injury and returned to training with his club.

However, asked if Benzema could make a shock return ahead of Sunday's final, France boss Didier Deschamps said: "I don't want to answer you. It's a stupid question."

Further reports from Spain on Friday claimed Benzema was unhappy to have been sent home in the first place and did not take kindly to Deschamps' latest comments.

The 34-year-old has now posted an ambiguous message on social media, simply translated as "I'm not interested", accompanied by an explosion emoji.

Former Lyon striker Benzema has scored 37 goals in 97 appearances for France.

Les Bleus are aiming to become just the third side – and first since Brazil in 1962 – to retain the World Cup trophy after beating Morocco 2-0 in the semi-finals to advance.

Kylian Mbappe's 15-year-old brother Ethan made his first senior appearance for Paris Saint-Germain in a friendly against Paris FC on Friday.

Ethan Mbappe replaced midfielder Fabian Ruiz as Christophe Galtier rang the changes at half-time, after Nordi Mukiele had given PSG a 1-0 lead at the Camp des Loges training centre.

The Ligue 1 champions went on to claim a 2-1 victory, with the teenager featuring alongside senior players including Sergio Ramos, Marco Verratti and Renato Sanches.

Ethan Mbappe joined PSG from AS Bondy in 2017 before signing a new three-year contract with the club in June 2021.

The midfielder, who was called up to France's under-16 squad last year, took to Instagram after the game, writing: "Very excited for my debut in the pros."

With Kylian Mbappe looking to cap another fine World Cup campaign by leading France to a second successive triumph at the tournament on Sunday, it could be a particularly memorable week in the Mbappe household.

France's World Cup squad is calmer and more experienced than the one that won in Russia, according to Ousmane Dembele. 

Didier Deschamps' side will become the first team to retain the World Cup since Brazil in 1962 if they overcome Argentina in Sunday's final at Lusail Stadium.

Dembele was an unused substitute when France beat Croatia 4-2 in the 2018 final but the Barcelona man has emerged as a key part of the team in Qatar.

Despite injuries to Karim Benzema, N'Golo Kante and Paul Pogba leaving France short of key players, Dembele feels the squad is more at ease this time around.

"It's not a dream yet. We're calmer and have more experience. We want to prepare well for this final," he said at a press conference on Friday.

"It will be a great day. We are ready for this fight against a difficult opponent. Argentina are better than they were in 2018. 

"In 2018 there were more crazy people in this team. There is a very nice atmosphere in 2022 too, but it is not comparable."

With France opting against naming a replacement for Benzema after he left their camp with a thigh injury last month, reports have suggested the Ballon d'Or winner could make a shock return for Sunday's game.

Deschamps refused to comment on those suggestions on Thursday, and Dembele claimed to be in the dark regarding the striker's availability.

"I don't know. I'm not the coach," Dembele said. "I think Benzema got injured and I don't have an explanation."

Ousmane Dembele says France are "taking precautions" ahead of Sunday's World Cup final with Argentina after two more key players were struck down by illness.

Les Blues were without Adrien Rabiot and Dayot Upamecano for Wednesday's 2-0 semi-final win over Morocco due to a sickness bug in the camp.

Rabiot missed out on the squad entirely while Upamecano was an unused substitute, as was Kingsley Coman, who was also suffering from a fever on the day of the game.

Midfielder Rabiot and defender Upamecano are understood to have now recovered in time for this weekend's final at Lusail Stadium.

However, according to widespread reports, central-defensive duo Raphael Varane and Ibrahima Konate trained away from the team on Friday after falling ill.

Aurelien Tchouameni and Theo Hernandez are also said to have missed the full session two days out from the final as they are recovering from minor injuries.

Despite potentially losing more players to illness and injury, Dembele insists France are not overly concerned at this stage.

"It doesn't worry us," he said at a news conference on Friday. "With Dayot, after a day I went to see him with my mask on and he was much better. 

"For the players and the staff, it doesn't worry us, we are just taking precautions.

"We are not afraid of the virus. Dayot and Adrien had headaches and stomach aches. I made them honey and ginger tea. We hope everyone will be better for the final."

France are already without the likes of Paul Pogba, N'Golo Kante, Karim Benzema, Presnel Kimpembe, Lucas Hernandez and Christopher Nkunku through injury.

Les Blues are aiming to become just the third ever side to retain the trophy, while Argentina are seeking a first world crown in 36 years.

The discussion over Lionel Messi's defensive work is "almost silly", according to his former coach at Paris Saint-Germain Mauricio Pochettino.

Messi's Argentina will appear in their sixth World Cup final on Sunday against France, aiming to get their hands on the trophy for the first time since 1986.

Messi will claim the World Cup appearance record outright by playing his 26th and likely final game at the tournament, while he could become the first player to record 20 goal contributions in the competition (currently 11 goals, eight assists).

The Argentina captain started the tournament slowly, with some observers criticising his work rate, but he has shone in the knockout stage.

Former Albiceleste international Pochettino, who coached Messi at PSG until his dismissal earlier this year, scoffed at those concerns and compared Messi to two icons of the game not renowned for their defensive work.

"Honestly, I think the debate about Messi's defensive work is so stale, almost silly," he wrote in The Athletic.

"You cannot pretend that [Diego] Maradona or Pele — along with Messi, the most important players in football — were focused on trying to win the ball back. He can't participate in that. He just needs the others to run for him.

"He doesn't need to press. When you have Messi, you need the other players to understand that they have to get the ball and give it to him so he can conserve his energy and then be decisive, as shown."

 

Argentina's run to the final has not been all about Messi, though, with Lionel Scaloni's side proving resolute in defence.  

They have restricted their opponents to just 5.7 shots per game – fewer than any other side. Indeed, they have not faced above 0.6 expected goals against in any of their six games so far.

Pochettino believes that defensive solidity and work ethic has been crucial in allowing Messi to flourish. 

"Of course, Argentina need Messi, but Messi needs the other 10 players to fight for him at all times," he added. "That's one of the keys to this team: they all believe that playing for Messi, they can win the World Cup.

"You can see that the players give 120 per cent to achieve this. Different players: [Rodrigo] De Paul, [Alexis] Mac Allister, [Enzo] Fernandez, [Julian] Alvarez, they give everything they have and more, and they do it for Messi.

"They give everything because it's their dream, they are so close, and when they have Messi, they know that everything is possible.

"That's the most important thing about this Argentina team, and the reason why they are in the final. It's because the players fully understand their role. When you have Messi in your team, you have to run for him.

"And when you have the ball, you have to give it to him as soon as possible so that he can create something. So, the players know what they have to do at all times: to give Messi everything he needs to be decisive."

Bernard Laporte has been told he must stand down as president of the French Rugby Federation after his corruption conviction, reports said on Friday.

Former France coach Laporte had signalled an intention to remain at the helm of the federation (FFR), but the organisation's own ethics committee has decided he must go.

According to French newspapers Le Parisien and L'Equipe, the ethics committee has served Laporte with an injunction insisting he vacates his post.

Should Laporte not follow the instruction to leave office, the ethics committee would reportedly have the power to take control of the FFR disciplinary commission and impose sanctions on the 58-year-old president.

"We could not stay outside this situation," said the ethics committee, quoted by Le Parisien. "But it took time for the members to come together, far from the media tumult, to make a decision in calm and serenity."

Laporte stepped down from his role as vice-chairman of World Rugby on Tuesday as an act of "self-suspension" after he was given a two-year suspended prison sentence.

That came after an investigation which examined a number of decisions that favoured Mohed Altrad, the president of Top 14 side Montpellier, including the award of a shirt sponsorship deal for the France national team to Altrad's construction business.

Laporte, who was France's head coach between 1999 and 2007, was also hit with a €75,000 fine and a two-year ban from involvement in rugby by the Paris Criminal Court on Tuesday.

The ban from rugby activities is suspended pending the outcome of Laporte's planned appeal; however, France's sports minister Amelie Oudea-Castera and the French National Rugby League have this week both called for Laporte to be replaced.

France will host the Rugby World Cup next year.

Oudea-Castera said it would be inappropriate for Laporte to remain in charge "at a moment as decisive for French rugby as the home stretch before a Rugby World Cup where France will receive nations from all over the world".

FIFA has confirmed that Szymon Marciniak will referee Sunday's World Cup final between Argentina and France.

Marciniak has already overseen games involving both finalists in Qatar, taking charge of France's 2-1 group-stage win over Denmark and Argentina's last-16 victory by the same score against Australia.

The Polish official, who also refereed games at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, has shown just five yellow cards across his two fixtures at this year's tournament and is yet to give a single penalty or red card.

Some referees have attracted criticism for their displays in the World Cup's knockout stages, including Antonio Mateu Lahoz, who booked 15 players in Argentina's quarter-final win against the Netherlands.

The Moroccan Football Federation has lodged a complaint to FIFA regarding Cesar Ramos' performance as referee during their World Cup semi-final defeat to France on Wednesday.

FIFA also announced Qatar's Abdulrahman Al Jassim will officiate Saturday's third-place playoff between Croatia and Morocco.

Lionel Messi is on a par with Diego Maradona and deserves to lift the World Cup for the first time on Sunday, believes his former Argentina team-mate Javier Zanetti.

Argentina will appear in their sixth World Cup final at the Lusail Stadium on Sunday, when they will look to prevent France from becoming the first team to retain the trophy since Brazil in 1962.

Messi will claim the World Cup appearance record outright by playing his 26th and likely final game at the tournament, while he could become the first player to record 20 goal contributions in the competition (currently 11 goals, eight assists).

The Argentina captain's talismanic displays in Qatar have been compared with those of Maradona during the Albiceleste's 1986 triumph, and Zanetti cannot split the legendary duo.

"Messi is a great player, I think he's on a par with Diego," he told reporters in Doha on Thursday.

"I think a lot of people want Messi to win because of what he represents in the world and because of the way he interprets football.

"Leo deserves it and the boys are making a great effort to get to that moment. He is the strongest player in the world and he makes a difference on the field."

 

However, the Inter great is not taking victory for granted, adding: "I hope that Argentina can bring the World Cup to our country. 

"I'm worried about [Kylian] Mbappe, [Antoine] Griezmann, [Olivier] Giroud, if [Adrien] Rabiot plays he is a quality player, and they have a great goalkeeper. 

"It's a group that has been working for a long time with this coach. It's a very complete team, very organised. But it's a final and anything can happen."

Meanwhile, fellow former Argentina international Diego Milito hailed Messi's displays as he said both sides were deserving of their place in the final.

"We know him, we know what he is capable of, that he is the best player in the world," Milito said of Messi. "He is having an extraordinary World Cup and he deserves it.

"The best two teams reached the final. It's a very difficult match but we are confident in the team.

"We are happy to be able to be in the final. Hopefully this Sunday will be a good final and we can achieve what we have been looking forward to for a long time. 

"This team has given much joy to the people, they have come on a path from the [2021] Copa America, and must be very happy and excited."

Milan "have to be a little more ambitious" and aim to win more than just the Serie A title, according to director and club legend Paolo Maldini.

The Rossoneri won the Scudetto last season for the first time since the 2010-11 campaign after beating Sassuolo 3-0 on the final day, wrestling the trophy back from city rivals Inter.

Milan's attempts to lift the Serie A trophy for a second straight season have seen them win 10 of their opening 15 matches.

Yet despite sitting second in the table, leaders Napoli are yet to lose a game and already hold an eight-point lead over Stefano Pioli's men.

Milan have fared well in Europe, though, making it into the Champions League knockout stages for the first time since the 2013-14 season.

Maldini, who won seven Serie A titles and five Champions League trophies with the Rossoneri as a player, feels they should be looking for continental success to add to their domestic triumph of last term.

Maldini told MilanTV: "The match played in Sassuolo [to clinch the title on the final day] ended a three-year period that started in 2019 with a very specific project, which did not envisage the victory of the Scudetto, but envisaged the return to be competitive.

"Of course, we're talking about Milan, and we can't be satisfied with having won a Scudetto, we have to be a little more ambitious.

"We can and must be protagonists in the four competitions that remain to us, because little by little, they will be very intense months."

The World Cup has seen several Milan players undertake a starring role for their national teams in Qatar. France duo Theo Hernandez and Olivier Giroud are set to play in Sunday's final against Argentina.

Hernandez scored in the semi-final victory over Morocco and Giroud has become Les Bleus' all-time leading marksman, while winger Rafael Leao also netted twice for Portugal.

"Rafa [Leao] did his part," Maldini added. "Two goals in a World Cup is no small thing. Unfortunately, he didn't play much, but I think it was still a good and high-level experience for him. 

"Olivier and Theo have been stars since the beginning. I must say that we are proud to see them in the starting line-up having reached the final of a World Cup."

Milan return to competitive action on January 4, when they take on Salernitana in Serie A.

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