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World Cup 2022: buildup to the final, plus Croatia v Morocco news – live | World Cup 2022




Key events

Fifa have released a downloadable digital World Cup final programme for tomorrow’s sizeable clash between Argentina and France. Get stuck in:

OUT TODAY – The FIFA World Cup™ FINAL Matchday Programme!

For the first time, the in stadium programme is FREE for the world to enjoy. Watch it come to life with videos and sound in a new, interactive digital edition. Download it now –

— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) December 17, 2022

As French star Kylian Mbappé gears up for the World Cup final on Sunday in Qatar, the forward’s presence is also felt strongly in Bondy, the satellite city of Paris where he grew up.

“Ah, Kylian, the rising star – the star of the stars,” said Kamel Ghehioueche, 41, bundled up in front of the city hall, an austere, concrete building from the 1960s, as parking agents cleared a lot for the Christmas market.

Local enthusiasm for the city’s favorite son is palpable, piercing through the winter gloom ahead of Sunday’s match between the reigning champions and Argentina.

For his second World Cup final, Mbappé, 23, will be playing against his Paris Saint-Germain teammate Lionel Messi.

Frikhi Mansour, who used to cut Kylian Mbappé’s hair in Bondy, Paris.
Frikhi Mansour, who used to cut Kylian Mbappé’s hair in Bondy, Paris. Photograph: Clotaire Achi/Reuters

“Kiki, we love you!” said Melissa Toumi, 28, who crossed paths with Mbappé during his youth, training on the soccer pitch.

In the parking lot of burger joint Harry’s Cafe, the famous striker’s image towers behind her, blanketing one side of a 10-story building.

“We want the third star,” said her friend Dounia Zeghadi, 34, referring to another star on the French team’s jersey signifying their third World Cup victory after their previous two in 1998 and 2018, where Mbappé shot to fame.

“Kylian, bring home the prize, inshallah,” said Frikhi Mansour, who recalled regularly cutting Mbappé’s hair when he was young.

“I told him, ‘When you’re a great football star, call me!’ It’s a great memory,” he said, pointing to photos snapped with the star draped in a barber’s cape. (Reuters)

Thanks John. I like it that Deschamps said the cold virus affecting his squad before the final is “obviously a situation”. It’s very Glenn Hoddle, or indeed very late, great Graham Taylor.

Please email me any World Cup-related thoughts. Funny stuff, interesting stuff, it’s your choice!

And with that, the blog is placed in the cold, dead hands of Luke McLaughlin. For a while, at least.

Americo gets in touch, with a public service request: “I have a favour to ask: yesterday a reader sent an email, asking other readers to recommend a place to see the final in Paris.

“In that spirit, I was wondering if you could help me: my partner will be in central London tomorrow for the game, and throughout the World Cup she’s grown accustomed to watching the games in what I would call an Argentinian “ambience” here in Spain. It doesn’t need to be a place filled exclusively with Argentina supporters; somewhere with a nicely mixed crowd would be perfect!”

Any ideas, anyone?

“Winning the World Cup” means more than lifting the trophy these days. No doubt, should Saudi Arabia host 2030, it will be hailed as the “best World Cup ever” before during and after the tournament, to follow the same pattern as with Qatar.

For Saudi, landing the trophy tournament in 2030 could offer rehabilitation on the world stage for crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. He was initially lauded as a reformer who might lead the kingdom on a path to modernity, until the murder of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi left it a pariah. The country’s role in the bombing in Yemen, restrictions on women’s rights and its use of the death penalty have further damaged its international reputation. Recently, Saudi’s decision to defy American pressure on oil production has frayed already uneasy relations.

Jonathan Wilson’s had his chalkboard and leather elbow pads out again. No Hamlet sub-headings this week.

“Stopping Messi. Stopping Mbappé. Hernandez v De Paul. Stopping Griezmann.”: is that from Coriolanus?

France’s Hugo Lloris is bidding to become the first man to captain two World Cup winning teams. In 1934 and 1938, the Italian captains were first Gianpiero Combi and then Giuseppe Meazza. In 1958 and 1962, the Brazilian captains were Hilderaldo Bellini and then Mauro Ramos.

He’s been speaking about the Doha flu in the French camp.

We are going to try and do our best in spite of the circumstances. I think thanks to the adrenaline and the excitement we will feel we will all be fit enough and ready to do whatever we can to win this last battle.

In the past we have proved that French teams who have been successful have always based that success on a strong team spirit.

So we try to draw from that, there is a very good feeling in the camp since the beginning of the tournament and there is no reason why that shouldn’t be the same again tomorrow.

You’re never really prepared for that type of thing but we are trying to get ready for this match the best we can, these are things for which we weren’t necessarily prepared but we remain focused and of course we are very excited to play in a World Cup final.

Tom Jenkins has been out in Qatar for the duration, and captured the passion of Argentina’s fans. It’s often been left up to them to add colour to the tournament.

Some strong quotes from the scene of that A-League violence.

“Outside the ground, I stopped at the lights on Batman Ave and saw three Melbourne Victory fans, two women and a little boy, shaking.

“He saw things tonight that scared the life out of him.”@adampeacock3 on tonight’s shameful scenes at the #MelbDerby

— CODE Football (@codefootballau) December 17, 2022

Didier Deschamps has been speaking this morning on the ongoing sickness within the French camp. More to follow but some sample quotes.

We try to take the maximum precautions, to adapt and to deal with it, without going overboard. It is obviously a situation. If it could not exist it would be better, but we manage as best we can.

I have no worries or stress. The important thing in preparing for a match like this is to remain calm.

In a World Cup final, there is the match, but also the context which is particular. But I know that the Argentinians, and maybe some French people too, would like to see Messi win the title.

Will Nash gets in touch: “Isn’t Messi winning the World Cup the ultimate in sportswashing? Everyone seems to be firmly on board, though.”

Employed by Qatar, an ambassadorial role for Saudi Arabia, Messi does embody that idea, but then again Kylian Mbappé is also a PSG player.

Nick Ames, as ever, says it well here.

Pairing the world’s most gifted forward with his heir apparent, along with the more divisive figure of Neymar, was intended as a fail-safe plan to microwave the highest level of success for Qatar’s club project. But it also ensured those players were inextricably linked with the nation when its $220bn exercise in soft power and diplomacy took centre stage. They have both delivered, and little that occurs in Lusail this weekend will change that. Shocks and underdog stories have provided welcome diversions, opening genuinely healthy discussions about football’s distribution of power, but only two individuals’ names will cut through the hubbub.

Unrest and violence in the A-League. Pretty jarring viewing.

As supporters flooded on to the field of play, a metal bucket used to dispose of flares was thrown in the direction of Glover, striking him in the face and drawing blood. The match referee, who was left covered in ash from the bucket, had no choice but to pull the players off the pitch and suspend play, before it was later abandoned.

It comes after a day of protests across the A-League Men competition, as fans made their feelings known about the Australian Professional Leagues’ controversial decision to sell off grand final hosting rights to Sydney for the next three years.

Relentless hype in Bavaria here.

It wasn’t just David Beckham who made a lot of money from Qatar’s World Cup.

One Briton who played an important role in the World Cup press operation is Richard Conway, who as a BBC Sport correspondent in 2018 produced an upbeat report on the preparations for the Qatar World Cup while riding a camel across the desert. A few months later he left journalism to form his own PR agency and has been working exclusively on the Qatar World Cup for several years. Journalists who have dealt with him say he has adopted a hands-off approach, acting as an informal conduit and enabling conversations by inviting critics of the World Cup and prominent newspaper journalists to off-the-record meetings with senior Qatari officials at London hotels.

Many Britons also work for the Qatari division of Teneo Blue Rubicon, a PR agency that has worked hard to promote the country, while journalists who have written critically about the country have also received legal letters from the law firm Carter Ruck. Neither company returned a request for comment on the nature of their work in the country.

A short line on the World Cup final referee, Szymon Marciniak, from Poland, per Reuters. He will follow in the tradition of bald World Cup final referees, broken up only by Nicola Rizzoli in 2014 since Pierluigi Collina. Nestor Pitana four years ago may well have engaged assistance since Russia but Marciniak follows in the Collina/Howard Webb tradition. Perhaps it’s a Gianni Infantino thing.

The 41-year-old, who became a Fifa referee in 2011, was all set to officiate in the European Championship last year before he was diagnosed with Tachycardia.

“I had a very difficult time for the last year-and-a-half. I had Tachycardia – it’s a heart illness. In the beginning, it was very difficult for me and I had to stop refereeing,” Marciniak said. “I missed the UEFA European Championship, it was a terrible feeling. Now, life gives back to me and I cannot even stop smiling because it’s a great feeling.”

He took charge in France’s 2-1 group stage win over Denmark where Kylian Mbappe scored twice before watching Messi lead Argentina to a 2-1 win over Australia in the last 16.

Marciniak is not the only Polish official who will be on the pitch, however. He will be assisted by compatriots – Pawel Sokolnicki and Tomasz Listkiewicz – all of whom worked together at the 2018 World Cup in Russia as well. Poland’s Tomasz Kwiatkowski will be in his ear as the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) while American Ismail Elfath – a two-times Major League Soccer Referee of the Year – will be the fourth official.

Lionel Messi and Polish referee Szymon Marciniak during the round of 16 football match between Argentina and Australia.
Lionel Messi and Polish referee Szymon Marciniak during the round of 16 football match between Argentina and Australia. Photograph: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images

The French are chasing history, according to L’Équipe, that World Cup retention only achieved by Brazil in 1958 and 1962, and Italy in 1934 and 1938.

Better known for its love of cricket, every four years India and the wider region are gripped by World Cup fever.

“Argentina is the land of Messi and Che Guevara. Whether it wins or not in the final, I will continue to be a diehard fan,” said TM Thomas Issac, an economist and member of Kerala’s ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Ahead of Sunday’s final, the state has descended into a blue-and-white frenzy, and public screenings, where thousands will attend, are being arranged by fans and local authorities. After a clash erupted between Argentina and Brazil fans during the beginning of the World Cup, police said they had beefed up security for Sunday.

Rob Smyth emails in, and is correct, as ever. “I think it was Sweden who finished third in 94, if only because I vaguely remember a dreadlocked Henrik Larsson scoring.”

Tomas Brolin
And here’s Tomas Brolin to prove it. Photograph: Ben Radford/Getty Images

Tony “TP” Paley has interviewed the man whose voice will guide UK viewers through the final. Guy Mowbray and Steve Wilson continue to be such safe pairs of hands for the BBC, and Jon Champion and Clive “Clive” Tyldesley did a good job for ITV, before the latter’s somewhat controversial early exit, while Sam Matterface continues to come in for a criticism that often appears a tad OTT. The breakout stars on the mic have been Seb Hutchinson on ITV, who has been excellent and full of fun, and Pien Meulensteen on the BBC.

Barney Ronay on the dark shadow that will, despite Fifa and Qatar’s gush, forever loom over the 2022 World Cup.

The fact is death and suffering were the inevitable collateral to this project from the moment Sepp Blatter read out the word “Qatar” in that weirdly strangled upbeat tone, crowded on his own stage by glad-handing power-brokers; and feeling, perhaps, through the lineups and posed smiles, that shadow already at his back, just out of shot, scythe clanking happily.

Do we have to say this again? Because what we have here is still an open case. The dots have not been joined.

Let’s start with the big one, the third-place playoff.

From today’s World Cup briefing:

Another chance to see Infantino
It seems within seconds of any World Cup match starting, the camera pans to Fifa president Gianni Infantino looking glum in the stands. The host broadcast camera operator always knows where to find him, allowing the world to celebrate his greatness. Rarely has he looked happy when watching a match but he is always there, committed to the cause like a parent on muddy sidelines every weekend. He will make the best of the occasion to celebrate football as a cohesive power for good or some such, while ignoring the empty seats. And if that does not entice you, then nothing will.


It’s MD-1, as they call these things, and the buildup continues to the final. First though, there’s the third-place playoff, and the chance for Croatia or Morocco to finish on the World Cup podium. Winning would make it three podium finishes for the Croats – 1998, 2018 and now – while Morocco can do something nobody in the Arab or African world has done. Should they do that, then they would follow the likes of Turkey in 2002 and Bulgaria in 1994 as being surprise packages who get a nice reward for a near-golden month at the World Cup.

News is keenly awaited from the French camp as to the health of their players amid that unfortunate flu outbreak, with Raphaël Varane, Ibrahim Konaté and Kingsley Coman in the sick bay. Argentina meanwhile seem to have a relatively clean bill of health, give or take Angel Dí Maria’s creaking bones and the possibility Lionel Messi is carrying a hamstring problem. No word of the latter, nor is there likely to be, but could he emulate his old mate Ronaldo at Euro 2016 and find himself coaching from the sidelines?

The latest news and features will roll in all day ahead of Croatia-Morocco, so join me.


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