Before the World Cup, Kylian Mbappe was in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. A report claimed Lionel Messi had grown ‘suspicious’ of his Paris Saint-Germain team-mate, with Sergio Ramos even said to be in agreement with him. Now, football is eagerly anticipating a showdown between the two icons on the grandest stage of all…
It was claimed just mere months ago that Mbappe was looking to leave PSG, having grown tired at the way he was used by manager Christophe Galtier.
And Messi was apparently ‘suspicious’ of his domestic team-mate, along with Ramos, with the pair believing the 23-year-old was acting like a spoilt brat behind the scenes.
It was even stated the two figures, who used to clash regularly during their respective spells at Barcelona and Real Madrid, had been brought ‘closer’ in their dislike of Mbappe.
Now, the two men are poised for the ultimate battle.
Argentina booked their place in the World Cup final on Tuesday night with a comfortable 3-0 win over Croatia, with Messi enchanting everyone throughout the showdown at the Lusail Stadium.
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The 35-year-old opened the scoring from the penalty spot, blasting his effort into the top corner well beyond the reach of goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.
And Messi then upped the ante to provide two assists for Julian Alvarez, with the Manchester City star taking his chances with aplomb.
Mbappe was unable to net as France met Morocco on Wednesday evening.
But it was another fine night for Les Bleus, who booked their place in the final courtesy of goals from Theo Hernandez and Randal Kolo Muani.
In many ways, the battle between Messi and Mbappe is a fight between the present of football – and its future.
Messi isn’t the player he used to be, something that’s clear given at the way his goalscoring stats have diminished as he approaches the twilight years of his career.
Yet he is still one of the best in the world and his mesmerising tournament in Qatar is proof he isn’t done yet.
Messi can still dribble, create and score when needed. He will very much be the man France need to stop if they’re to join an elite club by winning consecutive World Cup crowns.
Then there’s Mbappe, the heir to his throne.
The PSG star has put aside his woes back home to emerge as France’s talisman once again this tournament, even if he’s drawn a blank in his side’s last two matches.
Mbappe fired France to glory four years ago in Russia, saving his best performance until the final that year.
And Argentina will need to be at their best to keep the rapid 23-year-old at bay as they look to win the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
There will be little to choose between the two teams when they step out onto the field on Sunday afternoon.
But Rio Ferdinand, speaking on BBC Sport, thinks Messi and his team-mates will be ‘licking their lips’ when they tackle the defending champions.
“I think as good as France are, I think Messi and his team will be sitting there licking their lips a little bit and can see themselves exploiting certain areas,” he said.
“That left-hand side for France, when France were run at at times there was panic, and when you’ve got [Julian] Alvarez and Messi dancing and jiggling around, it’s going to be really, really hard.”
Yet Alan Shearer thinks France’s experience can be key.
“I get that but you go back to how experienced that France team is, they’ve been there and they know how to get over the line,” he stated.
“I think they will definitely look at what Rio highlighted in terms of the left-hand side.
“That’s what Morocco tried to do, Hakim Ziyech in particular and that’s what Messi will try and do and Messi or Alvarez could have some joy and success and creating chances definitely.”