They say that the FIFA World Cup is a sprint, rather than a marathon, because a team plays only seven games on their way to the trophy. Theoretically speaking, the winners could draw their way to secure the big prize, as a game is considered a draw in the knockout phase if it ends tied after 90 minutes and a team could progress with three points if the other results go their way in the group phase.
In modern history, Brazil are the only side to have won the competition by sweeping their opponents, winning seven games out of seven to clinch the trophy in 2002, a performance that “Selecao” was hoping to emulate before they were eliminated by Croatia on penalties in the quarter-finals at Qatar 2022.
After 62 games were played at Qatar 2022, only two teams are left standing with a chance for the trophy: Argentina and France, who have displayed good form over the past three weeks on their way to the final. But both the South American side and the European powerhouse have conceded losses in the group phase of the competition.
Therefore, it is the first time since 1978 when both finalists have lost at least one game but still made it to the final. That time around, Argentina and the Netherlands fought for the big prize in the “Monumental” in Buenos Aires, with the South American side clinching the trophy after a 3-1 win after extra time.
It seems somewhat reminiscent of what happened at Qatar 2022, as Argentina dropped a game in the group phase, but still progressed to the knockout phase, delivering an excellent performance when it mattered the most to clinch the trophy.
Surely, Lionel Messi’s side tried to emulate that performance and had it in mind, after Qatar 2022 started with a disappointing 1-2 loss against Saudi Arabia, in one of the biggest-ever surprises in the FIFA World Cup. Argentina took the lead through a Messi penalty, only to suffer a collapse in the second half and concede that loss.
It meant that every game played by Argentina at this tournament became a true final, first against Mexico, which they won 2-0, and another 2-0 win against Poland in the group phase, with a potential misstep taking the South American powerhouse out of contention.
“I would say that the first match was a hard blow for all of us because we had been unbeaten in 36 matches. To start in such a way in a World Cup was a blow, we did not think we would lose to Saudi Arabia. It was an acid test for this whole squad but this squad proved how strong we are,” said Lionel Messi after the win against Croatia, 3-0, in the semi-finals, which saw Argentina qualify for the final for the sixth time in history.
On the other hand, France’s only loss in the tournament came against Tunisia, as Didier Deschamps’ side has already lost more games than in their title-winning campaigns in 1998 and 2018, when they secured six wins and drew another match.
However, that loss could have been prevented, as Deschamps truly handed a chance for every player in the squad to feature in the competition, as France was already through after their 4-1 win against Australia and 2-1 win against Denmark.
While not being a true juggernaut that dominated matches, France did just enough to qualify to the final, taking a 3-1 win over Poland, a 2-1 win over England and finally keeping their first clean sheet of the tournament in the semi-final against Morocco, where they absorbed the pressure in a thorough way and delivered two excellent goals on the counterattack.
This is the fourth final in the last seven editions for France, underlining once again how consistent “Les Bleus” are in the past years, with two finals won and another one lost on penalties against Italy, in 2006.
“There’s emotion, there’s pride. Once again, it was an important step. There’s still another one to go. We’ve been with the players for a month, it’s never easy, but it’s been a pleasure up to now,” said Deschamps after reaching the second consecutive final of the FIFA World Cup.
There will be only one winner, though, but one thing is clear at Qatar 2022: these two teams are not unbeatable, as they have already exposed their weaknesses and blueprints have been formed.
Will history repeat itself like in 1978 and Argentina win against an European side? Or France finally win a title, in spite of a loss in the competition?