All the focus is on Kylian Mbappé and Lionel Messi but if Argentina want to win the World Cup final, the man they will need to stop is Antoine Griezmann. Mbappé has the No 10 on the back of his shirt but his teammate is playing the role to perfection.
Griezmann links everything together for France. Without the Atlético Madrid forward, Mbappé, Olivier Giroud and Ousmane Dembélé would not be getting the ball as much. No one has more than his three assists and that level of creativity will need to be stymied by Argentina.
Griezmann’s overall performance has been outstanding. He has a slightly different role to the one at club level. He still operates as a No 10 but he has the freedom to roam for France, allowing him to drop deeper to collect the ball so he can affect the game more. The best No 10s have three ways of playing – they can operate in tight spaces, have the ability to run in behind and can also play as a winger – and he can do all of these.
I would advise Argentina to be physical with Griezmann. These types of players do not like the aggressive side when they are given no space or time on the ball. Argentina need to stop the ball at source to prevent it from getting to Mbappé, Giroud and Dembélé, who are more than capable of causing damage.
Griezmann has not shirked his defensive responsibilities. Against Morocco he was really good and at times he was acting as a centre-back when the ball was coming into the box. In addition to natural talent, players at the top require that level of drive and determination to help their team.
The Netherlands have offered France a plan to think about after troubling Argentina in the quarter-final. The aerial threat of Wout Weghorst highlighted that Argentina can struggle with the direct approach and that is something Giroud could make the most of. I am a huge fan of him, a great player who has had a fantastic career. He comes up with big goals at crucial moments and this is the occasion for those types of players.
France have looked solid at the back, further aided by Ibrahima Konaté coming into the team against Morocco. They will need their back four and midfield to be perfect against Argentina and a certain Paris Saint-Germain forward.
If it is Messi’s last game for Argentina, he is going to turn it up another level. I have seen Messi in person for his club a couple of times but had not seen him play for his country before this World Cup. He has blown me away.
I know he walks around a lot waiting for those moments to pounce but when he does he is incredibly clinical and ruthless. It was mesmerising to watch him live. Every time he got the ball it was like the stage light was focused on him. Yes, everyone speaks about him, but how can you ignore him when he is that good?
Messi will be looking to make the most of France’s mistakes. Both teams will aim to have good shape and sit behind the ball, with neither particularly wanting possession. France had 39% possession against Morocco and 43% against England and Argentina were on the back foot until they scored the opener against Croatia. Luka Modric et al had 61% possession but were caught out by the genius of Messi.
It is interesting that neither side really press. France did not Morocco in the semi-final; they went round the deep-lying midfielder and were quite happy if the ball went into him. Similarly, you do not see Messi or Julián Álvarez pressing – they just drop off and wait.
The finalists are not dominating the ball or pressing teams, but they have players capable of magic moments, and plenty of them. Mbappé has not been at his best in the past two games, but he showed against Morocco that in the blink of an eye he can beat two players with incredible skill and create a goal.
The first goal, cliched as it sounds, will be important on Sunday. France scored early against Morocco, putting their opponents on the back foot, and Argentina dominated after taking the lead against Croatia. It will be interesting to see the effect an opening goal has on the opposition and how they adapt their tactics. It suited France that Morocco were trying to get back into the game because it allowed them to counterattack with pace.
Both teams have shown they can be physical and that should make it a spicy final. I think the majority inside the stadium will be Argentinians, which could have an impact.
The France fans were outnumbered by Moroccans but their team coped with the pressure, which will be heightened on Sunday. France have the experience of winning a World Cup and have progressed through the quarter- and semi‑finals despite not being at their best. That’s what good teams do.
It is going to be a tight game, too close to call. But France and Argentina have players who can make something from almost nothing.