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World Cup 2022: Argentina and France train their sights on final in Qatar – as it happened | World Cup 2022

Key events

That’s the lot for today. Thanks for reading and for all the emails, which have been uniformly excellent. I’ll be back for more red-hot World Cup blog action tomorrow so see you then.

Thanks for the email, Santiago, and good luck for the final – not that you need it if you will be celebrating no matter the result.

I think it’s clear that France are stronger as a squad, and man-for-man, than Argentina. But the idea that Messi’s genius can drag Argentina to a World Cup and emulate Diego Maradona, while increasingly well-worn in the past few weeks, is certainly a seductive one.

Re: the two semi-finals: both very good games in my opinion,” emails Santiago. “Which went to show the strengths and weaknesses of all four teams. Both Argentina and France got somewhat “lucky”, I guess, but my take is that they both know how to capitalise on their “luck” – particularly France …

“That being said, most of the French team has played this tournament in second gear (or, as Tom pointed out, they’ve never looked “rattled”, as opposed to Argentina, which except for the game against Croatia, has suffered almost every single minute of every single game), which makes me think that it’s either because: a) that’s actually their full capacity or b) they haven’t had to bother to do more than what at times looks like the bare minimum. I’m hoping the game on Sunday will finally show us which one it is.

“All things considered, I’m lucky enough to have a dual French-Argentinian citizenship, so I think I’ll be celebrating no matter what – but I do feel (Messi’s epic narrative aside, and Alvarez’s second goal against Croatia case in point) that the Argentinian team has been playing like they want it more – although that, of course, is not how football works …

“Fingers crossed for a great final …

P.S. Argentina’s relationship with Maradona is a very complicated matter. Books could (and definitely should) be written about it. But I think that, overall, in Argentina he’s mostly loved. For Argentinians abroad, it might be slightly different. He’s still the best ever, mind you.

P.P.S The song is definitely not what I would call “great”, but it has hit Spotify No 1 in Argentina:

We’re wrapping this up shortly, so here is a reminder of today’s World Cup content:

French fans celebrate in Paris after Les Bleus reach second straight World Cup final – video

Continuing the photographic theme – boats with Argentina and France flags in Doha today:

Boats in Qatar. Photograph: Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Argentina are training as we speak. Here are some photos:

Argentina's Marcos Acuna takes a shower.
Argentina’s Marcos Acuna takes a shower. Photograph: Lee Smith/Reuters
The Argentina players partake in a small-sided training game.
The Argentina players partake in a small-sided training game. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images
Angel Di María and a teammate during training.
Angel Di María and a teammate during training. Photograph: Francisco Seco/AP
Argentina players share a joke.
Argentina players share a joke. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images
Jacob Steinberg

Jacob Steinberg

At times it was even tempting to ask a ridiculous question: are France, defending world champions, slight favourites going into Sunday’s final with Lionel Messi’s Argentina, actually any good? Is someone going to work them out? Is Lionel Scaloni going to expose Didier Deschamps as a pragmatic fraud?

I’m considering firing up the laptop when I finish work and watching France 2-1 England again, just to check if I remember it correctly. Bad idea?

Following on from that excellent Mbappé track, who remembers the ITV theme for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico? It’s one of the first pieces of vinyl I ever bought, and I still have it somewhere.

It’s available to purchase for a cool £1.30 on Discogs, if you like that sort of thing.

Want more Qatar World Cup content? You’ve got it. Will Unwin and John Brewin pick out seven breakout stars from the 2022 tournament:

So here’s a random World Cup-related story. I was in a restaurant in Rome in August with my girlfriend, and we got chatting to the waitress who was Argentinian. I asked her if she’d ever been to see the Maradona mural in Naples. She made a face as if to say – ‘Why would I do that?’ – and we spoke about Maradona. She explained that as someone born in the mid-90s, all she really associated Maradona with was the drug problems, health problems, personal problems etc.

She went so far as to say she is sorry that many people around the world think of Maradona as synonymous with Argentina, as she and many other people certainly don’t see him as a hero or any kind of role model. Food for thought, for football fans like me, who previously sort of assumed he was a hero to all in Argentina.

Have you ever wanted to watch Zinedene Zidane headbutt Marco Materazzi in the 2006 final, via ‘tactical camera’? You can do so here on fifa.com.

Poland’s Szymon Marciniak to referee final

Although I can’t currently find confirmation from Fifa, it’s being widely reported that Szymon Marciniak of Poland will referee the final between Argentina and France on Sunday. It willl be the first time a Polish referee has taken charge of the final.

More as we get it …

Szymon Marciniak poprowadzi finał mundialu 😍🇵🇱

𝗕𝗥𝗔𝗪𝗢❗𝗣𝗶𝗲̨𝗸𝗻𝗮 𝗵𝗶𝘀𝘁𝗼𝗿𝗶𝗮 👏👏👏 pic.twitter.com/E0sVmTO57c

— TVP SPORT (@sport_tvppl) December 15, 2022

I was listening to 6Music on Saturday and Gilles Peterson was playing a lot of French music,” emails Michael Gaff. “And he played this gem about Mbappé.”


“Bravo Kylian, Kylian Mbappé, fais nous rêver / (Bravo Kylian, Kylian Mbappé, make us dream) … Bravo Kylian, Kylian Mbappé, fais nous danser / (Well done Kylian, Kylian Mbappé, make us dance).”

That’s really good. Thanks for sending, Michael.

Kari makes some great points around that zona mista approach,” emails David Neilson. “But what happened last night was magnetic Mbappé. He had seven Maroc players trying to stop him when the first goal happened and five for the second. Both times the Mbappé shot was partially blocked and the ball skiffed off to the unmarked French scorers.”

Kylian Mbappé of France takes on the Morocco defence.
Kylian Mbappé of France takes on the Morocco defence. Photograph: Noushad Thekkayil/EPA

Eric’s mention below of the noughties France side reminds me of the time I saw France play Australia in Melbourne in 2001. I was living and working over there at the time. I even bumped into Patrick Vieira and Nicolas Anelka on Collins Street.

France flew all the way across the world, you may remember, for a ‘friendly’ against the Socceroos, who were preparing to play Uruguay in a playoff for the 2002 World Cup. Kevin Muscat committed a horrible foul on Christophe Dugarry in a 1-1 draw, prompting the France manager Roger Lemerre to say: “Football isn’t a game of skittles. What happened to Dugarry is something I regret bitterly … It was a close match and it should not have been tarnished with such an act of brutality.”

Australia went on to lose the playoff against Uruguay. Ah, memories.

Incidentally, as demonstrated by this Guardian story from the time, Arsène Wenger was NOT happy at losing Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Sylvain Wiltord for a mid-season friendly match on the other side of the globe. Just imagine a World Cup in November/December, Arsène!

Eric Devin is here with an ode to Hugo Lloris:

“We’ve sung the praises of Kylian Mbappé, and his sublime technical ability made all the difference against Morocco, even if his doggedness did not show up on the scoresheet. We’ve sung the praises of Antoine Griezmann, and he turned in another man-of-the-match performance, seemingly appearing everywhere at both ends of the pitch, his industry key in setting up the opening goal. It was almost as if Adrien Rabiot’s absence in midfield through illness was urging Griezmann on to a higher level of excellence. He facilitated the attack while also adding some experience to help the callow pair of Ibrahima Konaté and Youssouf Fofana, who were in the team in place of Rabiot and Dayot Upamecano.

“But while assaying France’s stalwarts – including Olivier Giroud and Raphäel Varane – we’ve given scant mention to Hugo Lloris. The France and Tottenham goalkeeper has come a long way since he made his international debut in 2008, lining up alongside Nicolas Anelka, William Gallas, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira in a goalless draw against Uruguay. Steve Savidan and Jimmy Briand came off the bench in that match, a retro evocation of French football of the early-2000s, a world away from the present. The grim reality was that Raymond Domenech had overstayed his welcome and was truly a spent force by that point – a manager caught between generations in terms of talent while also hamstrung by his own superstitions.”

A bit more news here, from those busy people at Reuters:

“Real Madrid have reached an agreement to sign Brazilian teenage prodigy Endrick from Palmeiras, the clubs announced on Thursday. The 16-year-old forward will join the European and Spanish champions in July 2024, due to Fifa’s rules prohibiting underage players from playing abroad.

“Palmeiras and Real Madrid did not disclose the length of the contract but confirmed that the player will be visiting the club’s facilities in Spain next week.”

Endrick of Palmeiras: meant to be very good at football.
Endrick of Palmeiras: meant to be very good at football. Photograph: Ricardo Moreira/Getty

Thank you Tom. Hi again everyone.

Here’s an email from Kári Tulinius that came in while I was having luncheon, further to our previous discussion about France’s defensive discipline:

“I think you and Amar both make excellent points about Deschamps’ defensive rigor as a consequence of his tactical upbringing as a player. But I think offensively, too, you can see traces of his past at Juventus. The unique thing about France in recent years is their asymmetry, they tend to be more adventurous down the left, and more solid on the right. In this way they’re descended from the lopsided Italian teams of the mid-seventies through the mid-nineties, a style called ‘zona mista’, developed by Trappatoni at Juve, among others.

“Those teams tended to push up on one side, forcing defences to put bodies to that side of the field, which then creates space to exploit on the other wing. And then if the defences respond to cover that other flank, space opens up again. Hernandez had all the time in the world to score yesterday because Hakimi and other defenders rushed towards danger on the other side, leaving him free.”

Right, Luke has returned, nourished, and can talk you through the rest of the day, as Argentina begin their media-saturated evening training session at Qatar University. Thanks for your emails. Catch you later.

I stand corrected. Thanks to Juan Aliau for pointing out that in 1978 both finalists, Argentina and the Netherlands, also lost group games. How could I forget?

“On the question of luck,” muses Oliver Dungey, “I’d like to see it used as a metric to separate teams at the end of the group stage, after points, goal difference, and goals scored. If we define luck as a random outcome that is unintended then perhaps we could point to deflections that lead to goals as the key metric. Croatia’s goal against Brazil, for example, would have earned them 2 ‘luck points’, while France’s two extremely helpful deflections for their goals last night, being indirect, would generate 1 ‘luck point’ apiece. But then we get to a thorny philosophical question: would we prefer teams with good luck to progress or would those with bad luck deserve it more? Being a slightly embittered soul, I’d go for the latter. And we’ll need a better term than ‘luck point’ too – a ‘Deschamps’, perhaps?”

Football without luck, flukes, undeserved wins and losses and random unscriptedness in general would be absolutely rubbish and not worth following.

More fun with facts: This is the first World Cup in which both finalists have lost a game en route to the final. In the past there’s been winners who have (West Germany 1954 and 1974, Spain in 2010), and runners-up who have (Czechoslovakia 1962, West Germany 1982, Argentina 1990, Italy 1994, Brazil 1998) but never both. Until now.

Thanks Luke. And here’s some Argentina talk, with Reuters reporting that Ángel Di María is expected to be fit for Sunday’s final. He and Lionel Messi are the only two Argentina players who were also in the squad that lost the 2014 World Cup final against Germany in Brazil. Would be interesting to see what role Di María might play, with Julian Álvarez and Messi having really hit their strides in his absence. Argentina will also have the defenders Gonzalo Montiel and Marcos Acuna back; they’re less depleted than France, who of course went into this tournament deprived of their top striker and key midfielders.

I am heading off for a bit of lunch – Tom Davies is on hand to guide you through the next bit.

The Premier League restarts in *checks notes* 11 days’ time, on Boxing Day, as we call it in the UK. We can get back to top-flight domestic action and perhaps pretend that this bizarre World Cup never happened.

Back to good old summer World Cups from 2026, then, although of course Fifa are going to inject their cash cow with steroids and make it a 48-team tournament. Here, Jonathan Wilson considers how Fifa might make that new enlarged format a success:

There is also a parallel between with Deschamps’ France and Pep Guardiola’s great Barcelona sides. Guardiola said he spent far more time thinking about what his team without the ball than with it. As you say, when you have world-class attacking players you can to a large extent trust them to do their thing – if you get the defensive side of things correct. That of course includes defending from the front, snapping the team back into shape when you lose possession.

An example would be Thierry Henry saying he’d never worked harder than when he signed for Barcelona because he was expected to do his defensive duty, whereas at Arsenal he had been afforded the luxury of wandering back at a leisurely pace if an attack broke down.

Agree with you that a lot of what’s being said about Deschamps is missing the mark,” emails Amar. “To understand Deschamps, you need to look at his formative influences. He was the captain of the first French team (Marseille) to win a Champions League trophy in 1993, and the captain of the first French team to win a World Cup in 1998. The architect of the Marseille win was Raymond “la Science” Goethals, whose insistence on tactical rigour, discipline and resilience helped them overcome a Milan side that was Europe’s dominant footballing force.

“Arguably, similar qualities plus Zidane’s genius, helped Aimé Jacquet’s France side win in 1998. Jacquet, a humble, no-nonsense man, moreover, had dropped Cantona from the side, because of his perceived lack of tactical rigour. Cantona famously derided Deschamps as a “water carrier”. Well, the said “water carrier” has it seems relentlessly applied the lessons learnt in those early years. His strength has been to alloy resilience and rigour to France’s seeming unending ability to produce large numbers of world-class players, plus the X-factor types like Mbappé (now) and Zidane (back then).”

Marseille with the Big Cup in 1993.
Marseille with the Big Cup in 1993. Photograph: Boris Horvat/AFP/Getty Images

I enjoyed this tweet from Ian King last night, about how weaknesses in all the teams in the competition emerge as it unfolds, after plenty of pre-tournament hype.

I feel as though this happens every World Cup, that there’s this idea goes around beforehand that everyone’s really good, but then when you actually get into it, it turns out they’re all at least a *bit* shit. It’s one of my favourite things about the competition, TBH.

— Ian King (@twoht) December 14, 2022

Having said that, as stated, I don’t buy the idea that France have been ‘lucky’ as many seem to suggest. Yes I suppose Kane missing that pen was a stroke of luck, but who’s to say France wouldn’t have found a way to win anyway? I fancy they would have done.

John Brewin is here with World Cup Football Daily, looking ahead to Argentina v France:

Tough times for the sports minister in Belarus. Alexander Lukashenko, the president, has given his sports tsar a public dressing down for the fact that Belarus failed to qualify for the World Cup.

They are in fact “nowhere near”, as Lukashenko says. (Belarus were in Group E with Wales and finished bottom, also below group winners Belgium, Czech Republic and Estonia).

Alexander Lukashenko held a televised meeting with his minister of sport to decry the state of football in Belarus

It’s difficult to believe that this isn’t satire pic.twitter.com/IsfkEZy3Uf

— Francis Scarr (@francis_scarr) December 15, 2022

If I was the sports minister I might have pointed out that the European champions Italy also failed to qualify.

Nick Ames

Nick Ames

It was a job so comprehensive, so thoroughly performed to the letter, that France’s players converted it to song. “N’Golo Kanté, he’s short, he’s nice, he shut down Leo Messi but we all know he’s a cheater,” went the lyrics after their midfielder, detailed to smother Argentina’s No 10 in Kazan four years ago, barely allowed him a sniff. Messi was given little more than an assist for Sergio Agüero’s late consolation; he would finish the afternoon gazing at his feet and suspecting a dream had gone up in smoke, while France sailed through to the quarter-finals and far beyond.

The reference to deception? Kanté’s teammates had a running gag, not entirely based on fiction as he later admitted, that he cheated at cards. But they will need a joker of their own at the World Cup final, because their tried and tested recipe for success is unavailable.

Alleged corruption news. MEPs vote to make Qatari officials personae non gratae in Brussels.

Here are some factoids from Reuters about the third-place playoff.

When: Saturday, December 17, 6pm local (3pm GMT)
Where: Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
Odds (after 90 minutes)
Croatia win: 11/8
Morocco win: 2/1
Draw: 5/2

Key stats:

  • Morocco became the first Arab and African country to reach the World Cup semi-finals before losing 2-0 to France. Coach Walid Regragui also became the first Arab manager to lead a team to the knockout rounds.

  • The two sides had met in their opening Group F match and played out a goalless draw.

  • Croatia, runners-up in 2018, have played a third-place playoff once before. In 1998 they beat Netherlands 2-1 to finish third in that World Cup.

  • Morocco had not conceded a goal from an opposition player at the tournament before their semi-final defeat to defending world champions France.

  • The ‘Atlas Lions’ are short on defenders after losing Romain Saiss, Nayef Aguerd and Noussair Mazraoui to injury in their semi-final defeat.

Previous meetings: Croatia and Morocco have met twice before, including in this tournament’s group stage. Their only previous meeting prior to the World Cup was in 1996 in the semi-final of the King Hassan II International Cup. The match ended in a 2-2 draw before Croatia won 7-6 on penalties.

Darryl has emailed, drawing attention to Lionel Messi’s Saudi Arabia deal. Here’s a piece on that from a few months back:

Speaking of podcasts, I remember listening to a (non-Guardian) podcast after France won the Cup in 2018, when someone (can’t remember who) described Deschamps as ‘an analog coach in a digital world’. It seemed like a ludicrous claim at the time. It sounds even more ludicrous now.

If you’re out there and reading this, mystery podcaster, please do email me to explain yourself.

If you missed it – the post-France v Morocco Football Daily podcast is right here. Listen!

A bizarre question,” emails someone called et k. “Can you rank these World Cup performances, from the best to the … less best. Messi 2022, Mbappe 2018, Forlan 2010, Zidane 2006, Ronaldo fenomeno 2002, Baggio 94, Maradona 1986.”

No I can’t. Comparison is the thief of joy, and all that.

Actually I can’t resist one. Maradona 86 is obviously the best.

France did indeed endure a sticky spell in that first half against Poland. Piotr Zielinksi blasted that shot straight at Hugo Lloris instead of picking his spot and going for one of the corners. It might have been different …

Courtesy of Reuters, here is a look at France’s progress through the knockout rounds:


After France went through a brief rough patch, Giroud opened the scoring to become France’s all-time top scorer on 52 goals – moving one ahead of Thierry Henry. Les Bleus sealed it when Mbappé netted a couple of screamers – thumping the first shot under the bar before firing the second into the far top corner for his fourth and fifth goal of the tournament. Poland reduced the arrears with a stoppage-time Robert Lewandowski penalty.


France prevailed after a nerve-racking encounter. They went ahead thanks to a 25-metre Aurélien Tchouaméni strike, but cracked early in the second half with Harry Kane converting a penalty after a Tchouaméni foul. Les Bleus appeared to be on the ropes at times, but they soaked up the pressure and made their experience count when Giroud’s header from Griezmann’s pin-point cross restored the advantage.

Kane had a golden chance to cancel it out with a late penalty, only for the striker’s effort to fly over the bar. “We got a bit lucky although we gave away two penalties. We kept our lead with our hearts and our guts,” said Deschamps.

France abandoned possession early on, knowing too well that Morocco revelled in defending deep and looking to hurt their opponents on the break. They went ahead on five minutes thanks to Theo Hernández’s high-hooked volley, forcing their opponents to take the initiative. Morocco played boldly and would have deserved to level before the break.

But France defended with cool heads as Ubrahima Konaté proved unbeatable at centre-back despite being named in the starting XI at the last minute following Dayot Upamecano’s illness. Giroud could also have scored before the break but he hit the post in the 17th minute. It was all over in the 79th minute, however, when Randal Kolo Muani beat Yassine Bounou from close range after some great Mbappé work in the box, only 44 seconds after coming on as a substitute. France will play Argentina, who are also looking to win the World Cup for the third time, in Sunday’s final at the Lusail Stadium.

Kylian Mbappé’s tweet from last night is rocketing towards one million likes.

Impressive social media reach.


— Kylian Mbappé (@KMbappe) December 14, 2022

Feel free to email me or contact me via Twitter with any World Cup musings.

Thanks Tom and hello everyone.

My opening gambit with regards to last night’s game, and to France’s progress to the final, is as follows: The thing that really impresses me about the team under Deschamps is their discipline in keeping a rigid shape when out of possession. You can see how much work they put into this, and the result is that even when they are under pressure, they very rarely if ever get completely pulled out of position.

As a result, there is arguably nothing ‘lucky’ about the fact a defender always seems to be on hand to block a shot or make a clearance. It all stems from the defensive shape. Yes, they’ve done a fair bit of ‘last-ditch’ defending, but their attack is obviously so potent they are usually capable of soaking up plenty of pressure and then causing damage on the counter.

Right, I’m off for a break, and will leave you in the capable hands of Luke McLaughlin for a while. Catch you’se later.

I’m minded to declare all GOAT correspondence closed, but You Lot Out There have made a couple of decent points. First up, Kari Tulinius on the bias towards attacking players in all such discussions:

“The debate about who’s the greatest footballer of all time is dominated by the same kind of player, creative attackers who score and create goals. Pelé, Maradona, Cruyff, Ronaldo, Zidane, Messi, Mbappé and the others who feature in these discussions are all, indeed, great, but theirs is the same sort of greatness. Defenders, non-attacking midfielders or indeed goalkeepers rarely enter the conversation. N’Golo Kanté and Fabio Cannavaro, to name just two, frequently did things that I had as hard a time explaining to myself as when I first saw a roulette. Football is a team game, and attacking is only a part of the sport. There can’t be a GOAT because no one can excel at everything. Though the way Griezmann’s been playing, I would only be mildly surprised if he scored a hat-trick in the final and then saved three penalties as a goalkeeper in the shootout.”

And here’s Yash Gupta on how the game done changed:

“When there is a comparison for the greatest of all time, I’d like to point out the often ignored – All the magical moments Messi has produced, if there was a player that I would bet my imaginary farm on, it would be Maradona. Take Messi vs Gvardiol for example. Gvardiol simply wipes out Messi if that match was played in 80s. And for as great Messi is, tackling was just a tiny bit different when Maradona played. Another point for Maradona would be he had his human moments and still feels much closer to heart even though I never watched him live. I was born long after he hung up his boots. There will never be another Diego Maradona in football.”

One of the slightly tedious, even dispiriting, aspects of World Cups is how talk surrounding its breakout stars so quickly gets subsumed into chatter about which mega-rich clubs will pick them off, and the rumour mill never sleeps. So we’ve got Manchester United being linked with Portugal’s wonder kid Gonçalo Ramos, Leicester being linked with Azzedine Ounahi of Morocco and Angiers, and Real Madrid sniffing around PSV Eindhoven’s Cody Gakpo.

“For all the talk of France’s ‘clinical finishing’ being the difference last night,” writes Christopher Gibney, “it’s worth reflecting that both of their goals came from blocked shots turning into lucky assists, whereas for Morocco’s numerous forays into the box the ball tended to break for defenders to clear. We rationalise these results in hindsight – talking about experience, and ‘killer instinct’ being the difference in tight games – but personally I think blind luck played a much bigger role last night. Given how they’ve played, in Deschamps France seem to be demonstrating the wisdom of that famous Napoleonic preference for having lucky generals rather than a good ones.”

And yet they keep getting lucky. Morocco had plenty of forays, England had plenty of forays, so for that matter did Denmark and Poland against France. And yet France beat them all. There’s a psychological aspect to all this too. France haven’t played spectacularly in this tournament, have often been under pressure, but have never really looked rattled.

A spot of English domestic news now, and Erik ten Hag has said he’d be perfectly happy for Manchester United owners the Glazers to do one from Old Trafford. “My information is that it will only be good things because there will be more investment possible, which is good,” said the United manager.

Car hits and kills boy as fans celebrate France win

Some horrible news from France, via AP:

A car in the southern French city of Montpellier “violently hit” and killed a boy as crowds celebrated France’s victory in the World Cup semi-final, according to local regional authorities.

The driver fled the scene, but the vehicle was found nearby and police were investigating what might have caused the vehicle to strike the child, Herault authorities said.

Video emerged on Twitter showing a car being driven dangerously near crowds in the street following the French national team’s Wednesday night win over Morocco.

The boy, whose name was not made public, was rushed to a hospital and died of his injuries. French media said he was 14 years old.
French lawmaker Nathalie Oziol expressed her “immense sadness (that a) sporting event ends in absolute tragedy.”

Elsewhere in France, crowds in Paris and other cities erupted in shouts of joy as France advanced to the World Cup final. The displays were relatively restrained. Disappointed Morocco fans mingled with the exuberant supporters of the winning team, paying tribute to the African country’s unprecedented achievement.

In the capital of Belgium. about 100 people were detained late Wednesday after soccer fans shot fireworks at police and damaged cars in the center of Brussels, police spokesperson Ilse Van de Keere said.

Some more correspondence: “If ever there was a scoreline 2-0 that did not reflect how close the game was, it was yesterday,” writes V Krishnamoorthy. “What Morocco lacked was big-game temperament and/or experience. France was clinical in the two chances they had. leaving aside the romanticism attached to the underdogs, Morocco was clearly the winner yesterday.”

Yeah there were just a couple of occasions when their decision-making let them down when they got into France’s penalty area but other than that their performance was crisp and fluent and very easy on the eye, giving the lie to nonsense comparisons in some quarters with the likes of Greece 2004. It’s a bit of a bugbear of mine that “underdog” teams are assumed to base their success on defensive anti-football, even though their styles vary as much as the “elite” teams do. Morocco did need a bit more cutting edge but other than that they were one of the savviest tournament-football teams I’ve seen for many a year.

On to France’s opponents and Kurt Perleberg writes: “I live in the US & I want to see Argentina win the World Cup Final on Sunday so that Lionel Messi. who is on the Mount Rushmore of Soccer legends (along with Cristiano Ronaldo Diego Maradona & Pele) can go riding off into the sunset of international soccer & begin his last few years in this beautiful game at David Beckham’s Inter Miami CF in Major League Soccer (MLS).”

Fun with facts: Randal Kolo Muani’s goal against Morocco last night means every number on the World Cup squad lists, from one to 26, has now featured on the scoresheet, PA Media tells us.

Even more fascinatingly, Saturday’s third-place play-off will be the second in a row contested by teams who’d already met in the group stage – Belgium v England last time, Morocco v Croatia this.

It was lively in Paris last night, among fans of both teams, as Angelique Chrisafis reports:

Fans of France celebrate victory over Morocco in the Champs Elysées in Paris
Fans of France celebrate victory over Morocco in the Champs Elysées in Paris. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Blocking of ESL supported by legal opinion:

Huzzah! (For now). Back to that legal wrangle, here’s the verdict:

Uefa and Fifa’s right to block new competitions like the European Super League is compatible with EU law, according to a key legal opinion published on Thursday.

The opinion of the Advocate General in the case, Athanasios Rantos, was read out on Thursday morning at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

Richard Hirst gets in touch: “In the Daily Briefing Daniel Harris discusses whether Maradona or Messi is the GOAT, but comparing across eras is surely impossible, particularly because it is subject to the bias towards the recent, towards what we have seen for ourselves and can clearly remember.

I didn’t see Pele’s first two World Cups, but I did see 1970, and to my mind, having said comparison is impossible, he is without doubt the greatest. That is subjective, but winning three World Cups isn’t.”

Indeed, though what it takes to win three World Cups has also changed. But these debates don’t throw up anything that can be clinically proven, so let’s just enjoy Messi as we enjoyed Maradona and, for those who saw him, Pelé. Brilliant players are brilliant in different ways, just as eras vary. There’s no need to rank them, fun though it may be.

Away from the World Cup, one thing to look out for today is the legal opinion on the €uropean $uoer £eague, as PA Media reports:

A legal opinion due to be given today could shape the future direction of European football.

The European Court of Justice’s Advocate General in the Super League court case is set to give his non-binding view on whether Uefa and Fifa abused a dominant position under EU competition law when they blocked the formation of the Super League in April last year, and in attempting to sanction those involved.

If Athanasios Rantos’ opinion is that Uefa did abuse its position, and the final ruling of the court next year agrees with him, it opens the door for rival competition organisers to set up events outside Uefa’s jurisdiction in the future.

However, a ruling that backs Uefa’s right to act as it did could kill off the threat of breakaway competitions for generations to come.

The opinion is initially set to be read out in court alongside other judgements and opinions from 8.30am this morning UK time, before a written version is published in full later in the day. In many previous cases the court judges’ final ruling has closely mirrored the Advocate General’s opinion, so it could provide a strong indication of the final outcome.

Whatever the outcome, one fears the self-entitled ESL plotters won’t take no for an answer.

For all the Messi v Mbappé talk, PSG aren’t the best-represented club among the finalists’ squads – that honour goes to Atlético Madrid, with Real Betis, Villarreal, Barcelona and Real Madrid also prominent. A wee pick-me-up for La Liga after a chastening tournament for Spain.

World Cup Final:

Atlético de Madrid: 4 players

Sevilla: 3 players
Bayern Munich: 3
Juventus: 3

Barça: 2 players
Real Madrid: 2
Betis: 2
Villarreal: 2
PSG: 2
ManUnited: 2
Tottenham: 2
Milan: 2
Monaco: 2
Benfica: 2
Olympique Marseille: 2

— Jamie Easton Gombau (@eastonjamie) December 14, 2022

Some Moroccan reaction, from their impressive coach, Walid Regragui, who understandably mixed pride and disappointment:

“We knew we had achieved something great already and that everyone was proud of us. We are pleased with what we have done but felt we could have gone even further,” he said. “Those small details are what help real champions win and we saw that tonight. I told the players I was proud of them, his majesty is proud, the Moroccan people are proud, the whole world is proud. We worked hard, we were honest, and we showed the values we wanted to show.”

And as we’re getting to the stage where people start composing their tournament XIs, I’d have two, maybe three, Moroccans in contention – Ounahi, Hakimi and particularly the tireless Amrabat – you’d love a player like that at your club wouldn’t you. Boufal and Ziyech might also be in the reckoning.

Some migrant worker news from Reuters, who report that more than three dozen Nepali civil society groups have called on the Fifa president, Gianni Infantino, to “stop looking the other way” while migrant workers are denied compensation after having “suffered abuses in Qatar”, Amnesty International said.

And a reminder of yesterday’s grim news:

Quick Guide

Qatar: beyond the football


This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

Guardian reporting goes far beyond what happens on the pitch. Support our investigative journalism today.

Photograph: Caspar Benson

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Morning everyone. So this still-tainted and still-basically-unjustifiable World Cup has nonetheless thrown up the juiciest of finals after France sealed a second consecutive final place with a 2-0 win over Morocco in what, for my money, was one of the games of the tournament, and one whose scoreline didn’t reflect Morocco’s sparkling contribution. But France have that air of a team destined to win even when they’re not doing much, and in the reinvented Antoine Griezmann have perhaps the best player of these finals. The final is preposterously hard to call, with intriguing battles all over the place and certainly deserves more than to be reduced to a face-off between the two Qatar-employed superstars spearheading the respective sides’ attacks.

Our writers who were there have much to say about it all. So here’s Jacob Steinberg posing the question as to whether France are any cop:

Barney Ronay on that man Griezmann:

David Hytner’s match report:

Today’s Daily Briefing:

And you can listen to Max and the crew chewing it over here:

https://www.theguardian.com/football/live/2022/dec/15/world-cup-2022-news-and-reaction-after-france-reach-final-against-argentina-live World Cup 2022: Argentina and France train their sights on final in Qatar – as it happened | World Cup 2022

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