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France takes on Argentina in the World Cup Final. Here's what you need to know.

Argentina's forward #10 Lionel Messi (L) in Al-Rayyan, Qatar on December 3, 2022 and France's forward #10 Kylian Mbappé in Al-Wakrah. Argentina plays France in the 2022 World Cup final match in Doha, Qatar on December 18, 2022.
Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images; Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images
Argentina's forward #10 Lionel Messi (L) in Al-Rayyan, Qatar on December 3, 2022 and France's forward #10 Kylian Mbappé in Al-Wakrah. Argentina plays France in the 2022 World Cup final match in Doha, Qatar on December 18, 2022.

There are 64 matches played at the 2022 World Cup - and not only is this last one on Sunday the most meaningful, it arguably will be the most thrilling game of the monthlong tournament in Qatar.

The storylines are many:

  • #3 Argentina vs. #4 France
  • Lionel Messi vs. Kylian Mbappé
  • The race for the Golden Boot (the tournament's top goal-scorer)
  • When the World Cup brackets first came out and fans saw the possibilities, an Argentina-France final was a dream matchup that many hoped would happen. But soccer is a cruel sport that often dashes dreams. Except this time.

    France is the defending champion and no country has won back-to-back World Cup titles in 60 years (Brazil, in 1962, was the last). Les Bleus enter this match on a roll and stocked with talent.

    Let's start with Kylian Mbappé.

    He's scored five goals this tournament (tied for the most with Messi) and four in 2018. He has unbelievable speed and his ballhandling and trickery are otherworldly. Just 23, the comparisons to Brazil's legendary Pelé continue to pile up (in 2018, Mbappé became the first teenager to score at a World Cup final since Pelé in 1958 and this year he surpassed Pelé's World Cup scoring record for a player under 24 with his 9 total goals). And, unlike Messi, Mbappé has a World Cup title (sorry, it had to be said).

    Antoine Griezmann celebrates after France's 2-1 win over England in the quarterfinals on December 10, 2022 in Al Khor, Qatar.
    Dan Mullan / Getty Images
    /
    Getty Images
    Antoine Griezmann celebrates after France's 2-1 win over England in the quarterfinals on December 10, 2022 in Al Khor, Qatar.

    But soccer is a team sport with ten other players on the field. While most attention goes to Mbappé or Olivier Giroud (France's all-time goal leader), one of France's most important players in Qatar has been Antoine Griezmann. Formally an attacker, but sent to the midfield after a bevy of French injuries, Griezmann has shined - charging forward to create scoring opportunities and dropping back to defend. He's kept the team together with his creativity and ingenuity.

    Coming into this World Cup – both countries had won this tournament twice before. France (1998 and 2018) and Argentina (1978 and 1986). For Argentina star Lionel Messi it's the lone trophy missing from his illustrious career. The 35-year-old is one of the finest to ever play the game – but he's never been able to say he's a World Cup champion. He made it to the final once before – in 2014 – but Argentina lost to Germany. This is expected to be his last World Cup match.

    When he takes the field against France, Messi will set a FIFA record for the most number of games played in a men's World Cup competition: 26. Earlier in the tournament, he scored his 11th goal - the most ever for an Argentinian. He also has had an assist in five World Cups - the first man to do so. Coming into the final, Messi leads in the Golden Boot competition as the tournament's top goal-scorer. While Messi and Mbappé have each scored five goals, Messi has an edge in the tiebreak (three assists to Mbappé's two).

    Messi is in an elite club - but despite all his records and success, he will always be in the shadow of the great Argentine Diego Maradona - unless he can win a World Cup trophy for his country.

    The game will kickoff at 10a ET on Sunday. In the U.S., it will be televised on Fox and Telemundo.

    Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Corrected: December 15, 2022 at 11:00 PM CST
    In an earlier post we reported Mbappé was the first teenager to score at a World Cup since 1958. It should have said a World Cup final.
    Russell Lewis
    As NPR's Southern Bureau chief, Russell Lewis covers issues and people of the Southeast for NPR — from Florida to Virginia to Texas, including West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. His work brings context and dimension to issues ranging from immigration, transportation, and oil and gas drilling for NPR listeners across the nation and around the world.