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MALTATODAY 18 December 2022

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2 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 18 DECEMBER 2022 NEWS Qatar 2022 World Cup KARL AZZOPARDI THE stage in Qatar is set as Les Bleus face La Albiceleste in the 2022 World Cup final. Defending champions France outclassed the history-making Morocco side in the second semi-final of the FIFA World Cup 2022 on Thursday. Se- curing its second-successive berth in the summit clash of the FIFA World Cup, Didier Deschamps-coached France upstaged Morocco 2-0 at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Qatar. Defender Theo Hernandez scored France's quick- est goal of the Qa- tar World Cup in the fifth minute of the game. Extending their lead in the second half, substitute Randal Kolo Muani scored the second goal for France as the defending cham- pions ended Morocco's dream run at the grandest stage. A dazzling performance from Lionel Messi-led Argentina to their sixth World Cup final saw victory over Croatia at Lusail Stadium. Messi now gets one last chance to win this most impor- tant piece of silverware that has eluded him in his trophy-laden career, but Manchester City's 22-year-old striker Julian Alva- rez also shone. Messi looked to be struggling with a hamstring problem early on, but Argentina's little geni- us recovered enough to break the deadlock from the penalty spot after 34 minutes following Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic's foul on the ma- rauding Alvarez. A l v a r e z doubled Argentina's lead five minutes later when he took Messi's header just inside Cro- atia territory and embarked on a slaloming run, aided by fortunate bounces off Josip Ju- ranovic and Borna Sosa, before beating Livakovic. There was no fortune in- volved in a brilliant third after the break as Messi mesmerised Croatia's excellent defender Josko Gvardiol on the byeline before playing in Alvarez f o r t h e finish. Messi will now have the op- portunity to make amends for the bitter disappointment of losing the 2014 World Cup fi- nal to Germany in Rio's iconic Maracana. What to expect Argentina are going to want the ball as much as possible, and may go with five at the back like they did against the Netherlands. But sitting back to defend, then going on the counter in this one, could it be that France will try to replicate that game plan? Having Moroc- co bombarding you in attack is much different than facing Lionel Messi and J u l i a n Alva- rez, so it will be telling early on in the final just exactly how France will approach it. Mbappé became a global phe- nomenon by leading France to the World Cup title in Russia in 2018 and has a chance to cement his status as the sport's new superstar when he comes up against the 35-year-old Li- onel Messi, who has dominated the game along with Cristiano Ronaldo for the past 15 years. For some that makes it the dream final, with France look- ing to become the first team to retain the title since Brazil in 1962 and Argentina on a mis- sion to win soccer's ultimate prize in what is likely to be Messi's last World Cup. The World Cup trophy isn't the only thing at stake on Sun- day, with both Messi and Mbappé tied as the leading scorers with five goals as they chase the Golden Boot award. The final: Messi magic or Mbappé masterclass? Argentina Group stage Argentina 1 – 2 Saudi Arabia Argentina 2 – 0 Mexico Poland 0 – 2 Argentina Round of 16 Argentina 2 – 1 Australia Quarter finals Netherlands 2 – 2 Argentina (Pen: 3- 4) Semi-finals Argentina 3 – 0 Croatia France Group Stage France 4 – 1 Australia France 2 – 1 Denmark Tunisia 1 – 0 France Round of 16 France 3 – 1 Poland Quarter-finals England 1 – 2 France Semi-finals France 2 – 0 Morocco Road to the final

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