The Fifa World Cup roll of honour. Should Argentina win, they’ll become the first country from outside Europe to lift the trophy since Brazil, 20 years ago in Japan. Should France prevail, they’ll be the first side to retain the trophy since Brazil, 60 years ago in Chile. Either way, someone will be winning their third World Cup, which will fill the currently vacant 3 slot on this list, therefore making it more structurally pleasing to the eye.
5: Brazil (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
4: Italy (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006), Germany (1954, 1974, 1990, 2014)
2: Uruguay (1930, 1950), Argentina (1978, 1986), France (1998, 2018)
1: England (1966), Spain (2010)
The head-to-head between the countries reads Argentina six wins, France three, and three draws. Eight of those games were friendlies, however, while another was a goalless draw at a 1972 tournament designed to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Brazilian Declaration of Independence. Let’s not go down any of those rococo rabbit holes, and instead concentrate on the three showdowns that really matter: the only previous times Argentina and France have met at the World Cup.
1930: Argentina 1-0 France
The French had just beaten Mexico 4-1 in a match that kicked off concurrently with USA-Belgium in another group; those two games were the first-ever World Cup matches. Two days on, they faced a fresher Argentina, and as if being knackered wasn’t enough, were effectively down to ten men after two minutes when Luisito Monti crocked Lucien Laurent (who clearly had used up all his luck when scoring the first-ever World Cup goal against Mexico). Monti went on to score the game’s only goal from a direct free kick nine minutes from time. Argentina went on to lose in the final.
1978: Argentina 2-1 France
A pivotal game in a group also containing Italy and Hungary. Marius Trésor was in the process of tackling Leopoldo Luque while falling over when the ball hit his arm from close range. Daniel Passarella dispatched the controversially awarded penalty on the stroke of half time. Michel Platini equalised on the hour, following home after Bernard Lacombe’s delicate chip over keeper Ubaldo Fillol came back off the bar. The decider came on 73 minutes when Luque crashed home from the edge of the box. France were on their way back home, Argentina en route to the title.
2018: France 4-3 Argentina
It was Kylian Mbappé’s time. Had Lionel Messi’s passed?
Welcome to the Guardian’s minute-by-minute coverage of the 64th and final match of the 22nd Fifa World Cup: Argentina versus France. One of these great footballing nations will tonight win the biggest prize of all for the third time in their illustrious history. It’ll be Argentina’s sixth appearance in the final; France will compete in their fourth. Where shall we begin, then? There’s only one place …
1930: Uruguay 4-2 Argentina
… and it’s the first-ever World Cup final at the Centenario in Montevideo! Argentina led Uruguay 2-1 at half time through winger Carlos Peucelle and pencil-moustached striker Guillermo Stábile, but the hosts came back at them in the second half. Héctor Castro, who lost half an arm to a chainsaw while a teenager, crowned a 4-2 win for Uruguay. Stábile would have to make do with being the tournament’s leading scorer. Argentinian midfielder Juan Evaristo played this match in a beret.
1978: Argentina 3-1 Netherlands (aet; 1-1 after 90 mins)
Argentina 78 was every bit as controversial as Qatar 22, played against a grim backdrop: General Videla’s military junta, the Disappeared, accusations of bribery. Step in self-proclaimed socialist César Luis Menotti, the manager doing it for the people. His efforts nearly didn’t get their reward, Netherlands striker Rob Rensenbrink coming within the width of the left-hand post of winning the final for the Dutch in injury time. Argentina escaped, and Mario Kempes spurred the hosts to extra-time victory on a pitch littered with ticker tape. Argentina finally got their hands on the World Cup, nearly half a century after coming so close first time around.
1986: Argentina 3-2 West Germany
This was a fairly one-sided affair for 74 minutes, Jose Luis Brown and Jorge Valdano putting Argentina two goals up. But then a couple of Andy Brehme corners from the left turned the game. First Karl-Heinz Rummenigge tapped home, then Rudi Voller scrambled an equaliser for West Germany on 82 minutes. The game was suddenly in the balance … for three minutes, after which the previously quiet but utterly irrepressible Diego Maradona slipped a delightful through ball to Jorge Burrachaga, who had an awful long time to think about missing, but didn’t. Argentina had their second World Cup, a mere eight years after claiming their first.
1990: West Germany 1-0 Argentina
Argentina at Italia ‘90 is one of the great under-rated World Cup campaigns. Maradona sashayed through the entire tournament metaphorically flicking Vs left, right and centre. He turned goalkeeper against the USSR and got away with it. He did for fierce rivals Brazil with one of the great assists, setting up Claudio Caniggia while being mugged and playing with a dodgy foot. He missed a quarter-final penalty against Yugoslavia, but then in the semi at his home club ground in Naples, put another in exactly the same place to knock out Italy, a country he’d nearly plunged into civil war during the run-up to the game with some hilariously brazen north-south divide-and-rule you-belong-to-me mind games. The final was a step too far, however. West Germany were too good, and the referee wasn’t having any of Pedro Monzon and Gustavo Dezotti’s nonsense. Off you go, lads. Thanks to a late Brehme penalty, the Germans had their third World Cup. Argentina could console themselves with having irritated purists and hipsters worldwide. Hats off to them for that. A bravura performance.
1998: France 3-0 Brazil
France had twice previously fallen at the semi-final stage in spectacular fashion: 5-2 to Brazil in 1958, in a game in which Vavá crocked captain Robert Jonquet after 26 minutes; then in 1982 on penalties after an exhilarating 3-3 draw with West Germany, during which Toni Schumacher nearly killed Patrick Battiston. They’d also failed to turn up for the semi-final rematch with West Germany in 1986, but the less said about that 2-0 elongated yawn the better. So it was fourth semi lucky on home soil in 1998, when Lilian Thuram’s uncharacteristic goalscoring heroics turned things around against Croatia. Zinedine Zidane took up the attacking slack in the final against Brazil with a couple of first-half headers, Emmanuel Petit wrapping up a 3-0 win during the last knockings. The team became poster boys for the new multi-cultural France, and this may just be the first precis of the 1998 final that doesn’t take a deep dive into the subject of Ronaldo’s pre-match fitness.
2006: Italy 1-1 France (aet; 1-1 after 90 mins; Italy won 5-3 on pens)
Zinedine Zidane nearly missed a Panenka, then stuck the nut on Italy’s Marco Materazzi. Beauty is truth, truth beauty, and that is all ye need to know.
2014: Germany 1-0 Argentina (aet; 0-0 after 90 mins)
Argentina had laboured to a semi-final victory on penalties against the Netherlands, while Germany had done a number – specifically the number seven – on hosts Brazil. Lionel Messi wasn’t really at the top of his game during these finals, either, so with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, the result of this match seems inevitable. And yet. Gonzalo Higuain missed a golden chance to put Argentina ahead in the first half. He had an effort disallowed for offside. Rodrigo Palacio floated a chip off target while one on one with Manuel Neuer. Messi duelled with Neuer as well, only to drag dismally wide. Mario Goetze made them pay. To add insult to injury, an understandably seething Messi was forced to hang around interminably post-defeat to be presented with the player-of-the-tournament award. Oh Sepp. How could you be so tactless.
2018: France 4-2 Croatia
The highest-scoring final since 1966 had pretty much everything. Mario Mandžukić scored the first-ever own goal in the showpiece’s history. Ivan Perisic equalised for Croatia with a pearler. France regained the lead through VAR, then pulled away with a spectacular quickfire second-half double through Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappé. Hugo Lloris handed Mandžukić a little redemption on a plate, after which the heavens opened during the trophy presentation on Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović and her French counterpart Emmanuel Macron. Vladimir Putin was given an umbrella to stand under, though, the wee nyaff.
So that’s the historical context as the 2022 final looms. Not long now! Kick-off is at 3pm GMT, 7pm at the Lusail Iconic Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, midday in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and 4pm in Paris, France. يحدث! It’s on!