With over one billion people tuning in around the globe, Sunday's World Cup final represents the grandest stage in all of sports. For the players, it's a chance to touch immortality by joining the pantheon of winners.
Many on France's team already tasted glory in 2018, but now they're focused on becoming the first nation to successfully defend its crown since Brazil in 1958 and 1962.
Argentina is seeking its first title since 1986, when Diego Maradona inspired La Albiceleste to the greatest heights. Lionel Messi, playing in his last World Cup at the age of 35, is determined to emulate "El Pibe de Oro" by lifting the golden trophy.
Who are the players to watch in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Final? Here are five players from both Argentina and France who could make the difference on Sunday.
The 10 best players in World Cup Final 2022
The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner is playing some of the best ball of his illustrious career. Messi has scored five and created three in six games, and they've largely been outrageously good goals and assists.
Ayer, el Kun Agüero dijo que Messi suele dar indicaciones en el partido, que les habla a los compañeros, cortito y al pie. Acá se ve que le dice a Julián que se vaya con Gvardiol un rato, así podía recibir la pelotapic.twitter.com/B9T1hWeiUl— Diego Borinsky (@diegoborinsky) December 14, 2022
It's going to take a concentrated effort from the entire France team to minimize Messi's impact, but there's simply no stopping him right now.
Like Messi, Mbappé has been a joy to watch in Qatar. The 23-year-old already has nine career World Cup goals (27% of his international total), including a couple howitzers at this tournament. Mbappé in full flow is one of modern football's most awe-inspiring sights.
MBAPPE IS UNREALHe scores his FIFTH goal of the 2022 FIFA World Cup pic.twitter.com/ZevekmF47V
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 4, 2022
On Sunday in the World Cup final, Otamendi will earn his 100th cap for Argentina. The 34-year-old center back has been ever-present for his national team since debuting back in 2009. He's a veteran of three World Cups, four Copa Américas and one of the 2022 competition's best defenders.
France's all-time leading scorer with 53 goals in 119 appearances, Giroud reclaimed the striker role after Karim Benzema's injury and hasn't looked back with four goals in Qatar, including the game-winner against England in the quarters.
GIROUD PUTS FRANCE BACK ON TOP pic.twitter.com/KRBFrFkgPS— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 10, 2022
He has the best supply line in the international game with Griezmann, Mbappé, Dembélé and Hernández all boasting great vision and decision making in the final third, and Giroud is the perfect target with his aerial strength, finishing and excellent hold-up play.
28-year-old Rodrigo De Paul has been a force in Argentina's midfield, but 21-year-old Enzo Fernández looks like a truly special box-to-box player.
TWO FOR ARGENTINAEnzo Fernández with a BEAUTY pic.twitter.com/XMACd77tNv
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 26, 2022
He started the tournament on the bench and with substitute appearances against Saudi Arabia and Mexico, but Fernández has become untouchable in the middle of the pitch after bossing Croatia's three-headed monster of Luka Modrić, Marcelo Brozović and Mateo Kovačić in the semifinals.
The 29-year-old Varane is one of the most decorated center backs of all time with four Champions League titles and a World Cup to his name. Back in 2018 he played every minute on France's march to the title, and while he hasn't repeated that accomplishment in Qatar, Varane's looked increasingly commanding with big knockout round performances against Robert Lewandowski, Harry Kane and Youssef En-Nesyri.
Ángel Di María
The 34-year-old Di María almost certainly isn't starting the final despite recovering from a thigh injury that kept him out against the Netherlands and Croatia. Still, I can't bring myself to taking him off this list. He's one of Argentina's most dependable players with 128 caps to his name and 27 goals, including the winner in the 2021 Copa América Final.
He'll come off the bench at some point, and Messi will be glad to see his old friend out there.
After a quiet start to the tournament, France's 35-year-old goalkeeper was perhaps his team's best player in the quarterfinals against England and then he pulled off two big saves against Morocco in the semis.
What a ! Hugo Lloris got a ✋ on Jawad El Yamiq's bicycle kick for the SAVE OF THE DAY. pic.twitter.com/F94GGR2V0P— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 15, 2022
Lloris is now France's most capped player ever with 144 appearances, and he'll go down as his country's greatest keeper after eclipsing the achievements of Fabien Barthez.
It's been a breakthrough year for Álvarez on a global scale. At the club level, the 22-year-old arrived at Manchester City from River Plate for $20 million and quickly impressed under Pep Guardiola. Internationally, the forward has 13 appearances this calendar year and seven goals, including four at the World Cup and one assist.
JULIAN ALVAREZ WHAT A GOAL2-0 ARGENTINA pic.twitter.com/73747qp92r
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 13, 2022
And if it looks like Messi is walking around out there, Argentina never has to worry because Álvarez is usually doing the running of three guys up top. He leads the press like a fanatic, but there's no doubting his ability on the ball either.
They're saying that Griezmann, in the absence of Paul Pogba, N'Golo Kanté and Karim Benzema, is playing like some sort of freak hybrid of all three. His official position is attacking mid with Giroud up top and Mbappé and Dembélé to either side, but Griezmann is everywhere.
Antoine Griezmann's heat map against Morocco.He was everywhere
— Footy Accumulators (@FootyAccums) December 14, 2022
He hasn't scored yet in Qatar, but he's provided three assists (two against England) and was named man of the match against Morocco.