World Cup fans react to Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe development

Pictured left to right, Argentina great Lionel Messi and France superstar Kylian Mbappe.
Argentina great Lionel Messi and France superstar Kylian Mbappe will go head-to-head in a dream World Cup final for football fans. Pic: Getty

World Cup supporters are licking their lips at the prospect of a blockbuster final between holders France and South American heavyweights Argentina that will pit two of the game's best players - Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi - against one another. It's a dream scenario for tournament organisers and fans all around the world. Mbappe helped seal his country's place in Monday morning's final, with a hand in both goals during the 2-0 win over Morocco on Thursday.

Following Argentina's 3-0 victory over Croatia one day earlier - inspired by a Messi masterclass that left the world in awe - all eyes were on Mbappe in the second semi-final against Africa's first semi-finalists Morocco. While the France superstar was unable to add to his tally of five goals at the tournament - currently equal with Messi - his deflected shots did lead to both of France's goals against Morocco.

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Theo Hernandez and substitute Randal Kolo Muani were the beneficiaries of Mbappe's good work as France kept their hopes alive of becoming the first team to win back-to-back World Cups since Pele's legendary Brazil side in 1962. Mbappe has the chance to cement his status as football's new superstar when he comes up against seven-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi, who confirmed after the semi-final that this would be his last World Cup.

That massive revelation only adds to the fairytale story around Messi - who is desperate to win the only major trophy that has so far eluded him in an extraordinary career. The Argentinian is regarded by many as the greatest player of all time, and guiding Argentina to their third World Cup title - and first since 1986 - would only further cement his status in the game.

Mbappe, at just 23 and with the majority of his career still ahead of him, has of course already lifted the World Cup as part of France's victorious squad in Russia four years ago. A second title with France in Monday's final will inevitably see the comparisons with Pele - the only man to win three World Cup titles - heat up.

The storylines are as intriguing as they are mouthwatering ahead of the Qatar decider, with the race for the Golden Boot as the World Cup's top scorer just one of the sub-plots between Mbappe and Messi. The 'dream final' between the retiring great and arguably the best player on the planet right now, has left football fans beside themselves.

Messi will earn his 172nd cap in the final and will also break the World Cup appearance record he currently shares with German great Lothar Matheus, when he steps out for his 26th and final match on football's biggest stage.

"I feel very happy, to be able to achieve this, to finish my World Cup journey by playing my last game in a final," Messi told Argentine media outlet Diario Deportivo Ole. "It's many years for the next one and I don't think I'll be able to do it. And to finish like this, it's the best," added the Argentina captain.

The 35-year-old is playing at his fifth World Cup, surpassing the four that his countrymen Diego Maradona and Javier Mascherano both featured in. With his fifth goal in Qatar - the first half penalty against Croatia - he also surpassed Gabriel Batistuta as Los Albiceleste's all-time top scorer at World Cups, with 11 goals.

"It's all well and good (the records), but the important thing is to be able to achieve the group objective, which is the most beautiful thing of all," Messi added. "We're just one step away, after fighting hard, and we're going to give everything to try to make it happen this time."

Seen here, Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates after the semi-final win against Croatia.
Argentina's Lionel Messi will hold the outright record for World Cup appearances when he plays in his 26th match in the final against France. Pic: Getty (JUAN MABROMATA via Getty Images)

France book date with Argentina in World Cup final

France's victory against Morocco was a hard-fought one after the Africans overcame injury blows and showed no deference to France's reputation, taking the game to them in a gallant effort that added to the glowing reputation they have earned at the tournament. France settled the outcome with a second goal 11 minutes from time as substitute Kolo Muani, with his first touch after coming on, tucked in a shot at the back post.

Les Bleus are now into a fourth World Cup final and can become the first country to successfully defend their title since Brazil 60 years ago.

"There's emotion, there's pride, there's going to be a final step," France coach Didier Deschamps said. "We've been together with the players for a month, it's never easy, there's happiness so far."

For the first goal, Hernandez had to lift his left foot high to connect with a bouncing ball from a tight angle to finish off a sweeping move started by Antoine Griezmann's run down the right and a cutback pass that Mbappe initially fluffed.

Mbappe was the creator of the second, dribbling through the Morocco defence before his deflected shot fell kindly for Kolo Muani to net.

Olivier Giroud struck the post and missed from point-blank range in the first half at the end of a barnstorming run from Aurelien Tchouameni. The midfielder threaded a superb pass to find Mbappe, whose miscued shot was poorly cleared, allowing Giroud a first-time shot which flew wide from close-in.

Morocco were never overawed and had opportunities, with Azzedine Ounahi forcing two good saves from goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. The north Africans were hit hard by injuries to their key centre-backs. The gamble of naming Nayef Aguerd in the starting line up failed to come off as he hurt his hamstring in the warm-up, while skipper Romain Saiss had to go off after 20 minutes.

Replacement central defender Jawad El Yamiq came closest to an equaliser with a spectacular bicycle kick on the stroke of halftime, with Lloris getting a vital touch as the ball hit the base of the upright.

"We gave the maximum, that's the most important," Morocco coach Walid Regragui said. "We had some injuries, we lost Aguerd in the warm-up, Saiss, Mazraoui at halftime. We paid for the slightest mistake.

"We didn't get into the game well, we had too much technical waste in the first half, and the second goal kills us, but that doesn't take away everything we did before."

with agencies

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