Argentina plays France in Sunday's World Cup final

The Associated Press
Argentinian fans cheer before the the World Cup final soccer match between Argentina and France at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

The Latest from the World Cup final between Argentina and France:

Lionel Messi will lead an Argentina team containing Angel Di Maria, who starts for the first time since sustaining a foot injury against Poland in the final round of group games.

Di Maria takes the place of Leandro Paredes in midfield as Argentina again rolls out a 4-4-2 formation, with Messi one of the two forwards. Nicolas Tagliafico is preferred to Marcos Acuña at left back.

Kylian Mbappé starts up front for France alongside Olivier Giroud, who has overcome a minor knee injury. Dayot Upamecano and Adrien Rabiot come in for Ibrahima Konaté and Youssouf Fofana, respectively.

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The lineups for the World Cup final:

Argentina: Emiliano Martínez; Nahuel Molina, Cristian Romero, Nicolás Otamendi, Nicolas Tagliafico; Angel Di Maria, Rodrigo De Paul, Enzo Fernández, Alexis Mac Allister; Julián Álvarez, Lionel Messi.

France: Hugo Lloris; Jules Koundé, Raphael Varane, Dayot Upamecano, Theo Hernandez; Aurélien Tchouaméni, Antoine Griezmann, Adrien Rabiot; Ousmane Dembélé, Kylian Mbappé, Olivier Giroud.

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Blue, white and red face paint is being applied and Champagne is on ice as France collectively crosses fingers and toes in hopes that Les Bleus will win their third World Cup title by beating Argentina.

French TV carried live images of the France team leaving its hotel in Qatar en route for the championship match and of the players arriving at the stadium. Among them, a smiling Kylian Mbappé looked particularly relaxed.

A fan of France cheers prior to the World Cup final soccer match between Argentina and France at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

In Paris, the Metro operator marked the momentous occasion by temporarily renaming one of its stations, changing the stop “Argentina” to “Argentina-France, let’s go les Bleus!"

Players past and present sent messages of support.

“Playing a World Cup final is a childhood dream. Let’s go and get this third star! Allez les Bleus!” Zinedine Zidane posted on Instagram.

Striker Karim Benzema, the Ballon d’Or winner who missed this World Cup with a torn left-thigh muscle, posted: “The hour is come. All together. Let’s go.”

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World Cup final referee Szymon Marciniak is the first from Poland to handle the title game.

Marciniak, 41, missed working at the European Championship last year due to a heart problem.

“Only I and my team know how difficult of a time it was for me,” Marciniak said of his Tachycardia illness from which he has now recovered.

Marciniak has refereed both finalists already in Qatar. He handled France’s 2-1 win over Denmark in Group D and Argentina’s 2-1 win against Australia in the round of 16.

One of his assistants in the final is following in his father’s touchline steps. Tomasz Listkiewicz will hold a flag as an assistant running the line just as his father Michal did at the 1990 final in Rome, when defending champion Argentina lost 1-0 to West Germany.

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The World Cup champions will earn $42 million in prize money for their soccer federation while the losing team in the final will get $30 million from a FIFA prize fund of $440 million.

Not all the money goes to players, but they are expected to get a good chunk of it. France players such as Kylian Mbappé are in line to be paid a bonus of 554,000 euros ($586,000) by their federation for winning the final, French sports daily L’Equipe reported.

Third-place team Croatia earned $27 million in prize money and Morocco, which ended up in fourth, will be paid $25 million.

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Argentines woke up ready to watch the national team play for its third World Cup title amid a national feeling of unity and joy that is rare for a country that has been engulfed in an economic crisis for years and has one of the worst inflation rates in the world.

Argentina will face France in the final in Qatar and fan Guillermo Ortiz says “the whole city is dressed with the flag.”

Argentina last reached the World Cup final in 2014 but lost to Germany. Everyone in the country agrees the sense of anticipation and excitement for this year’s game is far higher than it ever was for that match in Brazil.

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It's now or never for Lionel Messi.

The Argentina superstar’s once-in-a-generation career will be defined — for many — by whether he leads his country to the World Cup title.

Can he finally, at the age of 35, win soccer’s biggest prize to secure his place alongside Pelé and Diego Maradona in the pantheon of the game’s greatest ever players?

Standing in his way is France, the defending champion, and Kylian Mbappé, the player best positioned to take over from Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as soccer’s marquee name.

That’s if he hasn’t already.

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Argentina arguably has the World Cup’s most fervent fans.

They are known for their rhythmical singing, incessant drumming and trance-like ferocity, and the country’s history of success at the World Cup is rivaled by few.

Argentina won the World Cup in 1978 and 1986 and lost in the final three times. This fervor will only grow as Lionel Messi leads Argentina against defending champion France in the final in Qatar.

Argentines take pride in the intensity and they are proud to be known for it around the world. They care deeply about soccer and they are among the best in the world at it.