Excited fans in France and Argentina are counting down the hours to what promises to be a memorable World Cup final in Doha.
History is on the line for both sides. France are aiming to become just the third team to retain the trophy in its 92-year history, following in the footsteps of Italy and Brazil.
Their head coach Didier Deschamps – who captained France to victory in 1998 – is also vying to become the first manager since Italy’s Vittorio Pozzo in 1938 to win consecutive titles.
For Argentina, the hopes and dreams of the nation rest of the shoulders of Lionel Messi. Arguably the greatest player of all time, he is hoping to crown a glittering career with a World Cup winners medal in what the 35-year-old says will be his final game for his country.
World Cup a welcome distraction in Buenos Aires
In Buenos Aires it feels like the future happiness of the nation is riding on this World Cup final.
Argentina is a country in deep economic crisis. Rampant inflation means so many millions struggle to get through each month – but along comes Lionel Messi and the Argentina team doing exceptionally well to get to the final and everyone here now seems to have parked their worries and instead are focusing on football.
“This country has been hit so hard, the cup is uniting us, we have this personality, the best footballer in the world and he’s loved everywhere,” says bar owner Luis Sarni.
Beyond Messi though, the entire team is doing its country proud.
“They say the football pitches don’t vibrate, they have a heartbeat,” Luis says. “Every Argentine sees themselves as a coach, everyone has a different opinion, but the moment we celebrate, we cry, we cry a lot – and hug!”
For young Martin Rojas, an Argentine who lives in France but is back on holiday visiting family, Sunday’s match means a lot.
“It’s my dream – not since I was born in the 90s have I seen Argentina the champion of the world,” he says. “Of course for Messi it’s his last World Cup – it’s a great last chance for him.”
And it’s a chance for Argentina to feel proud of their beautiful, yet troubled country.
Confidence in Paris as countdown begins
Here in Paris excitement is reaching fever pitch.
For the record, this is France’s fourth final in seven World Cups. Among the statistics being excitedly shared by fans is that France is unbeaten in its last 10 World Cup matches against South American sides. The last defeat was in 1978 – by Argentina.
This can’t help bringing to mind Kylian Mbappe’s famous comments earlier this year about South American football not being as “advanced” as European, because of the “lower” level of competition there.
He was referencing the fact that the last South American side to win the cup was Brazil in 2002 – and that Argentina hasn’t won since 1986.
And he probably was also recalling the last France-Argentina encounter – in the Round of 16 in Russia 2018 – which France famously won 4-3, Mbappe himself scoring twice.
All the more reasons for France to feel confident. Though of course from the Argentine perspective, all the more reasons too for wreaking their revenge!
As the countdown begins, President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte are en route for Qatar.
They will be accompanied by a delegation of sports personalities, including referee Stephanie Frapport who earlier this month became the first woman in charge of a men’s World Cup match.
It’s the president’s second trip to Qatar in four days. Fulfilling a promise he made at the start of the competition, he flew out for the semi-final against Morocco on Wednesday.
There’s been some criticism of President Macron from people concerned about Qatar’s record on human rights, but in general it is noticeable that the further France has progressed in the championship, the scarcer the calls for a boycott have become.