Many thought Lionel Messi's World Cup hopes had evaporated in the Kazan sun four and a half years ago when Argentina were beaten 4-3 by France in the quarter-finals of Russia 2018.

Qatar 2022 brought the possibility for revenge, but again those chances looked to be vanishing as a Kylian Mbappe-inspired France simply refused to go away in Sunday's utterly enthralling final, which ended 3-3 after extra time.

But with Emiliano Martinez doing the business in a penalty shoot-out for the Albiceleste, Argentina would not let the most elusive of opportunities slip from Messi's grasp again.

As the story goes, he still has sleepless nights because of the 2014 final defeat to Germany; those nightmares will be overwritten with the 2022 final replaying in his dreams for the rest of his life.

After all, for Messi, everything came down to this.

He reiterated this week that Sunday's showpiece would be his last World Cup game. Everyone assumed that would be the case anyway, but the final confirmation only served to increase the anticipation.

This was essentially France against the world. There has arguably never been a World Cup final more one-sided in terms of support, and it was all because of one player.

For years the debate over the 'greatest of all time', or 'the GOAT', has swirled around Messi. While the majority have not needed any further convincing of his entitlement to such a status, there have always been dissenters.

Messi's detractors pointed to one caveat: a lack of success with Argentina. Technically, that was accounted for last year with Copa America glory, but for him to definitively silence the most stubborn of doubters, he would need to match Diego Maradona and win the World Cup.

Even before Argentina and Les Bleus served up their feast at the massive golden bowl of Lusail, there had been countless signs that something was different about Messi this time.

There has been an anger, a vengeance to his performances and aura in Qatar. From ice-cold goal celebrations to embracing – leading, even – the needle in the quarter-final shoot-out win over the Netherlands, Messi has looked like a man possessed by in the pursuit of one final ambition.

He very much picked up where he left off against Croatia here. The first 20 minutes went almost as well as it could have, Messi at the centre of practically everything.

France looked petrified in the face of Argentina's intensity, their aggression; the Albiceleste seemed to relish the expectation on their shoulders.

Les Bleus routinely conceded possession in their own half, inviting pressure and, ultimately, a goal. Angel Di Maria skinned Ousmane Dembele easily and then lured him into a clumsy foul in the box.

The wait for Messi to take the kick felt like an age, but he dispatched it with the nonchalance of a man who already knew his destiny.

It was a just reward for Argentina's ferocious start, and more was to come in the form of an instant all-time classic World Cup final goal.

Again, Messi was crucial. His improbable flick after receiving a tricky pass was devilishly effective. Releasing Julian Alvarez into the France half on the counter, the striker had the awareness to feed Alexis Mac Allister and his perfectly weighted pass into the box left Di Maria with an easy finish.

It capped off a first-half performance that left Didier Deschamps utterly shellshocked, with the France coach's double withdrawal before half-time a first for a World Cup final.

But Argentina shrunk after the break and their plan to sit on a 2-0 lead proved ill-conceived. France did not initially threaten, but once they did, Lionel Scaloni's men were suddenly in a sorry state – oh, how the tables turned.

Mbappe slammed home one penalty, and just 97 seconds later found the net again – a clinical finish after a clever one-two with Marcus Thuram. It was Messi who yielded possession in the build-up to what had only five minutes earlier looked an impossible equaliser.

While Mbappe had gone from 0-100 in the blink of an eye, Argentina's captain suddenly looked exhausted, physically and emotionally. It was slipping through his fingers in the most excruciating way. 

And yet, even in the face of the newly inspired Mbappe, Messi stood out as the man most likely to deliver the telling blow.

Indeed, Argentina thought Messi had won it when he tapped in after Hugo Lloris failed to hold Lautaro Martinez's strike in the second half of extra time.

But back came France. Again. Another Mbappe penalty brought despair to the Argentina team, bench and crowd. A shoot-out beckoned, and even then only after Emiliano Martinez had saved brilliantly from Randal Kolo Muani at the death.

And so it was that the most outrageous of World Cup finals was going all the way; Messi's last tango was going to be as agonisingly intense as possible.

Mbappe stepped up first and scored, of course, but Messi matched that with a penalty so cool-headed that his team-mates must surely have drawn inspiration from it.

Emiliano Martinez's save from Kingsley Coman and Aurelien Tchouameni's woeful miss proved decisive. Argentina cried; France stood in shock having come so close to their own seismic moment in history, fighting back twice in defence of their title, only to leave with nothing.

But this was all about Messi. The greatest player of all time finally got his chance to lift the most coveted prize in football, the one trophy his greatness demanded. Argentina flocked to him, barely a dry eye in the stadium.

"Messi! Messi! Messi!" fans sang at full-time as the huge crowd in Lusail revelled in the gravity of what they had just witnessed.

This was what World Cup finals are supposed to be like, but in virtually every way there will probably never be another like this.

It was the football equivalent of man setting foot on the moon for the first time; in future years people will reminisce over where they were when Messi won the World Cup, and the sheer lunacy of the game will only add to what was already a captivating tale.

At long last, Messi took his own giant leap, finally conquering his final frontier.

Lionel Messi and Argentina won an all-time classic World Cup final despite Kylian Mbappe's hat-trick taking France into a penalty shoot-out following a 3-3 draw on Sunday.

Gonzalo Montiel converted the winning spot-kick to clinch a 4-2 shoot-out success for Argentina at the end of a thriller at Lusail Stadium, with goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez having saved Kingsley Coman's attempt and seen Aurelien Tchouameni fire wide.

France, aiming to become only the third side to ever retain the trophy, battled back from two goals down in normal time after Mbappe converted an 81st-minute penalty and scored a delightful volley 97 seconds later.

Messi had opened the scoring, before Angel Di Maria rounded off a delightful counter-attacking move, and the Albiceleste number 10 restored his side's lead in the 108th minute, only for Mbappe to respond again two minutes before the end of extra time.

That teed up penalties, with both Mbappe and Messi converting before Argentina gave their captain a fitting World Cup farewell. 

Kylian Mbappe became the youngest player to score 10 World Cup goals on the way to dragging France level with Argentina in Sunday's Qatar 2022 final.

The forward gave Les Bleus hope from the penalty spot in the 80th minute, before a stunning volley squared things up just 97 seconds later at Lusail Stadium, where Lionel Messi's spot-kick and a goal from Angel Di Maria had seemingly put Argentina in control.

Taking his World Cup tally to 11 goals, Mbappe is the youngest player to reach double figures at the finals – aged 23 years 363 days – surpassing Gerd Muller's record (24 years, 226 days).

The Paris Saint-Germain star also became the fifth player to score three times in a World Cup final, having also netted against Croatia in the 2018 showpiece, along with Vava, Geoff Hurst, Pele and Zinedine Zidane.

Lionel Messi became the first player in World Cup history to score in every round of a single edition of the tournament after putting Argentina ahead against France in Sunday's final.

The Argentina captain opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the 23rd minute when he calmly sent Hugo Lloris the wrong way after Ousmane Dembele felled Angel Di Maria.

Messi is the first man to net in the group stage, the round of 16, the quarter-finals, the semi-finals and the final at one World Cup.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward also became the first to 20 direct goal involvements at the finals (12 goals, eight assists), while no player has scored or assisted in more different matches (14) than the 35-year-old, whose sensational campaign showed no signs of slowing.

Achraf Hakimi has apologised to Gianni Infantino following his confrontation with the FIFA president.

The Morocco defender reportedly questioned Infantino on the level of officiating at the World Cup following the Atlas Lions' defeat by Croatia in the third-place play-off.

Walid Regragui's side were denied a potential penalty against the 2018 runners-up when Youssef En-Nesyri's header hit Bruno Petkovic, while Ibrahima Konate's challenge on Sofiane Boufal also went unpunished in the semi-final loss to France.

But Hakimi, who also confronted referee Abdulrahman Al-Jassim, has since expressed remorse over the incident, with the Paris Saint-Germain full-back acknowledging his frustration had boiled over.

"Nothing happened," he told reporters. "I was angry after the end of the match. I went to talk to him, and I apologised for the words I said to him. He is my friend and I respect him a lot, so nothing happened."

Morocco became the first African nation to reach the World Cup semi-finals, having topped Group F ahead of Belgium of Croatia, before overcoming Spain and Portugal in the last 16 and quarter-finals respectively.

Lionel Messi will break the record for most World Cup match appearances in Sunday's final against France after being named in Argentina's starting XI.

Messi's outing in the semi-final win over Croatia took his World Cup games tally to 25, level with Lothar Matthaus.

But he was unsurprisingly named among the starters for Sunday's showpiece at Lusail Stadium, with Messi aiming to win the World Cup for the first time.

Another lesser record is within his grasp as well, as Messi will be become the first player to score in the group stage, last 16, quarter-final, semi-final and final in a single edition of the tournament if he nets against Les Bleus.

That would also ensure he becomes the first player (since 1966) to record 20 goal involvements in World Cup tournaments, as he goes into the game with 19 (11 goals, eight assists).

Messi and nine others retain their places in the team from the semi-final, with the only change seeing Angel Di Maria come in for Leandro Paredes.

France's major concern ahead of the final had been the virus being spread around their camp.

However, they appear to have come through the worst of it, with everyone available for selection.

As such, Didier Deschamps reverts to his preferred starting XI, with Dayot Upamecano and Adrien Rabiot returning to the line-up – the former was only fit enough for a bench role against Morocco, while the latter missed out entirely.

There had been reports of additional players contracting the illness during the week, while Aurelien Tchouameni, Theo Hernandez and Olivier Giroud were said to be struggling with injuries.

But all were deemed fit enough to start as France aim to become the first European nation since Italy in 1938 – and just the third country ever – to retain their World Cup crown.

Drake, known for his frequent jinxes on sporting teams, has staked $1million on Argentina to beat France in Sunday's World Cup final.

With Lionel Messi set to face off against France in what will be his last attempt to finally achieve World Cup glory, the Canadian rapper is backing Argentina to be victorious at Lusail Stadium.

But this may not bode well for Messi and Argentina, with Drake having previously shown a propensity to 'curse' teams he is supporting, especially when it comes to gambling.

Just last month, Drake lost $2m when he heavily backed reigning UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya against Alex Pereira at UFC 281, only for the Brazilian fighter to win by TKO and take Adesanya's belt.

The 'God's Plan' rapper also recently found himself $649,000 down when part of his accumulator had Barcelona to beat Real Madrid in October's El Clasico, which the latter won by a 3-1 scoreline.

Drake's record label OVO had its logo displayed on Barcelona's kit during that match as a celebration of him hitting 50 billion streams on Spotify, which currently sponsors the Spanish giants, where Messi is a club legend.

Drake was seen backing Argentina in Sunday's showpiece match on a video posted online with a friend, saying: "I'll take Argentina, he'll take France. That will be a vibe."

The 36-year-old has now put his money where his mouth is by placing the eye-watering amount on La Albiceleste to come out on top against the current holders.

Argentina fans and Drake will be hoping that Messi finally gets his hands on international football's elite prize, with the latter set for a total payout of $2.75m if Lionel Scaloni's men lift the trophy.

Sunday's World Cup final will not be the first time Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi have met on this stage.

If the encounter at Lusail Stadium is half as good as the instant classic witnessed in Kazan four years ago, then we'll be in for a treat.

France won 4-3 in their last-16 duel, a game that was defined by Argentina's fragility and Les Bleus' ruthlessness.

Didier Deschamps' men of course went on to win the tournament; Argentina soon sacked Jorge Sampaoli and Lionel Messi went into a self-imposed international exile.

It was a seismic contest in a variety of ways.

Mbappe elevated to superstardom

The final of Qatar 2022 is of course being billed as Mbappe versus Messi. Ahead of their meeting in Kazan, this wasn't really the case, with the latter undoubtedly the focus for many.

But at full-time, there was almost a sense of this game being Mbappe's 'arrival' as a global superstar.

 

While his talent was already well known having joined Paris Saint-Germain in 2017, Mbappe's performance against Argentina brought his prodigious ability to a worldwide audience.

He was devastating.

Argentina couldn't handle his speed and ability on the ball, with Mbappe tearing the Albiceleste's slow – and high – back-line to shreds.

First, he darted through them, drawing a foul from Javier Mascherano that resulted in Antoine Griezmann striking the crossbar.

Then he just ran away from them, leaving Mascherano and company in his tracks before surging past Marcos Rojo and winning a penalty that Griezmann coolly slotted home.

It wasn't just about his speed, though. Twice he delivered the decisive touch.

 

Somehow making space for himself in the box, he slammed a left-footed strike through Franco Armani to open his account.

Then he rounded off one of the most memorable goals of the tournament. An intricate counter-attack led to Mbappe steaming up the right flank and latching on to Olivier Giroud's prodded pass before emphatically finding the bottom-left corner with a first-time effort.

It made him the first teenager to score twice in a World Cup match since Pele in 1958.

"When you are to meet a player like Kylian or Leo, of course you make a plan to control them," Sampaoli said. "But if they have a day like Mbappe did, it's very difficult to make the plan work."

Mbappe had truly arrived.

Messi engulfed by the gloom

Just as Mbappe provided an utterly terrifying glimpse of what he'd go on to become, it seemed Messi was on his way out.

Having recently turned 31, there was a perception this was Messi's last tango at the World Cup; after all, he had already retired from international football once before.

And, to be fair, his performance offered little in the way of a response to the idea that he was done.

He did get a couple of assists. The first wasn't exactly one for the highlights reel – it was a tame shot that hit Gabriel Mercado on its way in. Then, his deep cross found Sergio Aguero to head home late on, but Messi was missing the inner fire he's so clearly embraced in Qatar.

At the point of Mercado's fortunate goal, everything was looking quite positive for Argentina as it put them 2-1 up, but they simply weren't defensively sound enough to keep Les Bleus at bay.

 

Similarly, Messi was unable to shoulder the burden of individually inspiring a team that was essentially in crisis, with prominent reports of rifts and a player mutiny against the coaching staff.

Exile followed for Messi.

Lionel Scaloni was appointed – initially as caretaker head coach – in August 2018, with Messi's future unclear. He was left out of Scaloni's early squads, but after a nine-month absence he did eventually return.

He's not looked back. Messi led Argentina to their first major title in 28 years in 2021 as they won the Copa America, and he's been the key figure in the Albiceleste's route to the final of Qatar 2022.

But can he finally win the biggest title that's eluded him?

Eat my goal

There was more to the Kazan classic than just Mbappe and Messi, however.

A topsy-turvy encounter that encapsulated Argentina's roller-coaster campaign had almost everything: drama, engrossing wider narratives, incredible players and some outrageous goals.

Griezmann's penalty opened the scoring, but the match truly came alive with Angel Di Maria's equaliser.

Given space about 30 yards out, he unleashed an unstoppable piledriver out of Hugo Lloris' reach up to his left, sparking maniacal celebrations from Argentina.

 

Those celebrations were matched – and the goal arguably trumped – when France brought the game back to 2-2.

Lucas Hernandez's cross fell kindly to Benjamin Pavard just outside the box and the defender met it with one of the most satisfying half-volleys you're ever likely to see, slicing across the ball to send it spinning with venom into the top-left corner.

Mbappe's exceptional second had Argentina 4-2 up, and even Aguero's ultimate consolation was a goal of real quality, particularly Messi's pass.

But the legacy of this game was Mbappe's elevation to a new plain, and it's from there that he's plotting to deny Messi's bid for immortality this time.

Former Germany defender Per Mertesacker insists he has his hands full at Arsenal and is not considering the possibility of his country coming calling.

Mertesacker is the academy manager at Arsenal, but he has been tipped as a "perfect man for the job" as Germany seek a new national team director.

That was the view expressed this week by Real Madrid star Toni Kroos, a former international team-mate of Mertesacker.

Mertesacker, speaking to German broadcaster Sky Sport on Saturday at a charity ice hockey game benefitting his Per Mertesacker Foundation, spoke of his enjoyment of his role in England.

The national team role has become vacant after long-time incumbent Oliver Bierhoff moved on after Germany's second consecutive World Cup group-stage exit.

"I'm super happy in England and I'm in charge of the youth academy. There's a lot to do there," said Mertesacker, who won 104 caps for Germany. 

"We're very committed and try to introduce young talent, but also give them certain values. That's very, very important to me."

Regarding the DFB position, he added: "I haven't been spoken to yet, so I don't want to speculate. We're all interested in German football and in having a lot to offer in the future."

Mertesacker, 38, retired from playing at the end of the 2017-18 season after seven campaigns with Arsenal, and immediately took up his current role.

Germany's football association, the DFB, recently announced a new advisory group to help the national team bounce back from their latest dismal World Cup performance.

It includes ex-Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, BVB adviser Matthias Sammer, Red Bull managing director Oliver Mintzlaff, current Bayern CEO Oliver Kahn and long-time Bayer Leverkusen managing director Rudi Voller.

The group will be led by DFB president Bernd Neuendorf and vice-chairman Hans-Joachim Watzke.

Croatia boss Zlatko Dalic insisted his team's World Cup bronze medal did not mark the end of an era and declared there was "nothing to fear" about the future.

The head coach saw his team overcome Morocco 2-1 on Saturday to take third place at the Qatar 2022 finals, four years after they were runners-up when Russia hosted.

Croatia, a country with a population of around four million people, has produced remarkable football teams since gaining its independence from the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and Dejan Lovren have been kingpins of the side for many years, and Modric and Lovren have already ruled out carrying on until the 2026 World Cup, while it would be a major surprise if Perisic remained on the team.

He would be 37, and given his role is a high-energy one that involves getting up and down the pitch, Perisic can probably be counted out of that tournament.

Modric intends to play on for now, certainly to the Nations League next year and perhaps through to the Euro 2024 finals, and Dalic believes the newest and next generations of Croatia internationals can thrive just like the current breed.

"Yes, this is the last World Cup for some of my players today, due to their age and some other aspects," Dalic said. "But we have young players too, there's a hopeful Croatia: Orsic, Stanisic, Sutalo."

Of those, defenders Josip Sutalo and Josip Stanisic are both 22 years old, while midfielder Mislav Orsic is 29, and should be good for another World Cup cycle.

It was Orsic who hit the winning goal against Morocco, a classy strike from a difficult angle that left goalkeeper Yassine Bounou grasping at air.

Dalic said of the rising stars in his ranks: "We have many of those players on the bench, but they'd not be able to have good performance without the older ones.

"The older players instil confidence, they allow them to grow and mature. We have a great football school for the future. Croatia has nothing to fear for its national team.

"Is this the end of an era or a generation? I think not. We have the Nations League and qualification for the Euros in 2024, that is what awaits us, but we have great talents.

"There are four players from the Croatian league in the team today and I believe Croatia has a fascinating future."

Luka Modric has decided to play on for Croatia after the veteran captain helped his team to bronze at the Qatar World Cup.

That could mean Modric remains at the heart of the Croatia midfield at Euro 2024, by which time he will be approaching his 39th birthday.

Real Madrid playmaker Modric is not looking quite that far ahead for now, but crucially he has not ruled out extending his career for his country through to that point.

The first step for Modric will be a tilt with his country at the Nations League Finals in the Netherlands next year, with Croatia joined in that four-team tournament by the hosts, plus Italy and Spain.

Thrilled with another World Cup medal, after a silver four years ago in Russia, Modric told beIN SPORTS: "This medal is very important for us, for me, for Croatia as a national team and as a country.

"We confirm with this medal that Croatia is playing an important role in the world of football, and we are leaving Qatar as winners.

"About my future, I don't know if I will be at the Euros in Germany. I need to go step by step.

"I'm enjoying the national team, I feel happy, I still think I can perform on a high level, and I want to continue at least until the Nations League, and then after there'll be more time to think about the Euros.

"But now it's go step by step and continue at least until the Nations League, and after we will see."

There had been concern in some quarters that Modric would retire from international football after this World Cup, but coach Zlatko Dalic expressed optimism he would play on through to the 2024 European finals in Germany.

Now, after Saturday's 2-1 win over Morocco in the third-place play-off, Dalic's wish is close to becoming a reality.

Croatia have Wales, Armenia, Turkey and Latvia in their Euro 2024 qualifying group, and they would be strongly favoured to come through that and reach the finals.

It remains to be seen whether Dejan Lovren plays on, with the 33-year-old centre-back left with some thinking to do about his own future.

Lovren said getting a World Cup bronze was "something special" and paid tribute to Modric, his long-time colleague in the national team.

"I get emotional, because it's for us the last World Cup, and I lived so many great memories with him," Lovren said.

He said it was "an honour" to play in the company of such a top performer, with Modric having won the Ballon d'Or award after Croatia's run to the 2018 World Cup final.

Lovren even said Modric had proven himself a superior performer to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in the latter stages of World Cups.

Messi may have something to say about that after Sunday's final, when Argentina take on France.

"He's better than them in these moments," Lovren said of Modric. "There's not too many players who took the silver and the bronze.

"He can be proud and he knows that. He's a special guy."

As for his own future, with a view to the next Euros, former Liverpool defender Lovren said: "I wish I can tell you what will happen in two years. I'm just enjoying this moment, and we will see."

Gio Reyna's alleged fallout with United States head coach Gregg Berhalter at the World Cup was "a non-story", according to team-mate Tim Ream.

USA reached the knockout rounds on their return to the competition after eight years away, but saw their stay at Qatar 2022 curtailed after a last-16 loss to the Netherlands.

There was a limited role for Reyna, widely considered one of their best players, with just two appearances off the bench throughout the USMNT's run.

Reports pointed to a disagreement with Berhalter over a lack of effort in training, but Ream has moved to settle the story once and for all as the team continue to decompress.

"For us, it's a non-story," he said on his podcast Indirect. "We dealt with it in camp, things moved on, we moved past it and that's where we are. We can put that to bed.

"We addressed it in camp and [Reyna] did what he had to do, and obviously came on against the Netherlands and helped to drag us back into the game. For us, that's it. That's the end of it."

Meanwhile, USMNT team-mate Christian Pulisic also disclosed he has no current plans to leave Chelsea as it stands, though that could change further down the line.

A coaching turnover between Thomas Tuchel and Graham Potter at Stamford Bridge is yet to improve Pulisic's playing time, but speaking on the podcast, the forward stated he is not plotting an exit.

"Right now, I'm absolutely back at Chelsea," he said. "That's where my mind is at, ready to finish the season. But you know in football, things change. Anything can happen."

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.

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