Argentina should get physical with classy Antoine Griezmann to shut down France | WC 2022

ONEThe focus is on Kylian Mbappé and Lionel Messi, but if Argentina want to win the World Cup final, the man they must stop is Antoine Griezmann. Mbappé has the No. 10 on the back of his shirt, but his team-mate plays the role to perfection.

Griezmann ties everything together for France. Without the Atlético Madrid striker, Mbappé, Olivier Giroud and Ousmane Dembélé would not have received the ball as much. No one has more than his three assists and that level of creativity must be stymied by Argentina.

Griezmann’s overall performance has been outstanding. He has a slightly different role to that at club level. He still operates as a No.10, but he has the freedom to roam for France, allowing him to drop deeper to collect the ball so he can influence the game more. The best No.10s have three ways of playing – they can operate in tight spaces, have the ability to run in behind and can also play as a winger – and he can do all of these.

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This is a World Cup like no other. For the past 12 years, the Guardian has reported 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 brought together on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football website for those who want to delve deeper into the issues off the pitch.

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

Photo: Caspar Benson

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I would advise Argentina to be physical with Griezmann. This type of player does not like the aggressive side when they are not given space or time on the ball. Argentina must stop the ball at its source to prevent it from getting to Mbappé, Giroud and Dembélé, who are more than capable of causing damage.

Griezmann has not shirked his defensive responsibility. Against Morocco he was really good, and at times he acted as a centre-back when the ball entered the box. In addition to natural talent, top players require that level of drive and determination to help their team.

The Netherlands have offered France a plan to think about after troubling Argentina in the quarter-finals. The aerial threat of Wout Weghorst highlighted that Argentina can struggle with the direct approach, and that is something Giroud could make the most of. I’m a big fan of his, a great player who has had a fantastic career. He comes up with big goals at crucial moments and this is the occasion for that type of player.

Antoine Griezmann

France have looked solid at the back, further helped by Ibrahima Konaté coming into the team against Morocco. They will need their back four and midfield to be perfect against Argentina and a certain Paris Saint-Germain striker.

If it’s Messi’s last game for Argentina, he’s going to turn it up a notch. I have seen Messi in person for his club a few times but had not seen him play for his country until this World Cup. He has blown me away.

I know he walks around a lot waiting for those moments to strike, but when he does, he’s incredibly clinical and ruthless. It was fascinating to see him live. Every time he got the ball it was as if the spotlight was focused on him. Yes, everyone is talking about him, but how can you ignore him when he is so good?

Messi will try to make the most of France’s mistakes. Both teams will aim to be in good shape and sit behind the ball, without either of them being particularly interested in possession. France had 39% possession against Morocco and 43% against England and Argentina were on the back foot until they scored the opener against Croatia. Luka Modric et al had 61% possession but were caught out by Messi’s brilliance.

It is interesting that neither side is really pushing. France did not do Morocco in the semi-finals; they went around the deep-lying midfielder and were quite happy if the ball went into him. Similarly, you don’t see Messi or Julián Álvarez pressing – they just let go and wait.

The finalists don’t dominate the ball or pressure teams, but they have players capable of moments of magic, and lots of them. Mbappé has not been at his best in the last two games, but he showed against Morocco that he can beat two players with incredible skill in an instant and create goals.

The first goal, clichéd as it sounds, will be important on Sunday. France scored early against Morocco, putting their opponents on the back foot, and Argentina dominated after taking the lead against Croatia. It will be interesting to see the effect an opening goal has on the opposition and how they adapt their tactics. It suited France that Morocco tried to get back into the game because it allowed them to counter-attack with speed.

Both teams have shown they can be physical and that should make for a spicy final. I think the majority inside the stadium will be Argentinians, which could have an impact.

The France fans were outnumbered by the Moroccans, but their team coped with the pressure, which will be increased on Sunday. France have experience of winning a World Cup and have made it through the quarter- and semi-finals despite not being at their best. That’s what good teams do.

It’s going to be a close game, too close to call. But France and Argentina have players who can make something out of almost nothing.

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