Onus on Argentina, France to keep the thrill alive
FIFA president Gianni Infantino, on Friday, hailed the Qatar World Cup as the best one ever. The supremo of world football's governing body has been so impressed by the thrill and the unpredictable nature of the tournament this year that he hinted that the three-team group format of the 48-team 2026 World Cup, scheduled to be held across the USA, Mexico and Canada, could be revisited.
FIFA had previously indicated that the 2026 finals would see countries divided into 16 groups of three during the first round.
"The groups of four have been absolutely incredible until the last minute of the last match," Infantino told a press conference in Doha.
"We have to revisit or at least re-discuss the format, whether it's 16 groups of three or 12 groups of four. This is something that will be on the agenda in the next few weeks," he added.
Indeed, it has been a tournament to remember -- one that saw a number of upsets and fantastic performances from smaller nations, including a historic final-four appearance for Morocco.
And the other factor that has added to the excitement is the final itself -- to be fought between Argentina, one of the most universally loved footballing nations and France, the defending champions and arguably the strongest side of the tournament.
With 62 matches done and dusted and only two remaining, there is an air of quietness around Doha. Fans from many countries have already taken their flights back home as their teams have failed to get this far in the tournament.
Not the Argentines, though. They have been the boisterous brigade in this tournament since Day 1, even after the Albiceleste made a dreadful start to the campaign by losing to Saudi Arabia.
Some of them even staged demonstrations outside a Doha hotel demanding tickets from the Argentine FA for the final.
Each country that qualified for the quarterfinals was given an extra allocation of tickets for matches they reached, but as Albiceleste continued their march towards a 36-year-drought-ending title, there has been a stream of Argentina fans coming into this country without tickets.
Whether the large number of fans get to watch the match on Sunday from inside the Lusail Stadium or on the screens outside, the team were boosted by the return to fitness of Angel Di Maria and the return to the squad for the suspended duo of defenders Gonzalo Montiel and Marcos Acuna.
Argentina captain Lionel Messi, though, skipped training on Thursday more out of caution and in a bid to get into his best shape after sustaining a slight niggle during the semifinal against Croatia.
There was some distressing news from the France camp, however, as several France players reportedly caught cold, with Raphael Varane, Ibrahima Konate, and Kingsley Coman the latest to fall ill on Friday.
Centre-back Dayot Upamecano and midfielder Adrien Rabiot had already missed semifinal win over Morocco with illness.
It is certainly not good news for France, who will look to become the first team in 60 years to defend the title and add a third to their growing trophy cabinet by beating a side who are searching for their third title too, and a first in 36 years. And ending that long wait for Albiceleste would also lend immortality to their skipper Lionel Messi, who, despite achieving all the accolades in a decorated career, has always been regarded as the second best Argentine to play the sport after Diego Maradona.
With so much at stake, the onus will be on France and Argentina to give the World Cup a fitting ending so that it's tag as the 'best ever' leaves no scope for questions and claims.