DOHA, Qatar (AP)France coach Didier Deschamps knows most neutral fans want Argentina to win the World Cup final to give Lionel Messi the perfect send-off from soccer’s biggest tournament.
In fact, Deschamps even believes some people in France hope that happens, too.
”I’m fine being alone in the world – that doesn’t bother me,” he said with a smile.
It feels like Deschamps and his France team have been up against it throughout the tournament.
The World Cup started for France with a deluge of injuries, with Karim Benzema, Christopher Nkunku and Presnel Kimpembe getting ruled out to join Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante on the sidelines.
It is finishing with France’s squad being further weakened by a virus that led to defender Dayot Upamecano and midfielder Adrien Rabiot missing the win over Morocco in the semifinals. Three more players – center backs Raphael Varane and Ibrahima Konate and winger Kingsley Coman – were absent at practice on Friday but they were present on Saturday, when all 24 members of squad were in attendance for the team’s final training session before Sunday’s final.
Deschamps is taking it all in his stride.
”We are doing our best to take precautions and adapt as necessary,” he said Saturday in his eve-of-final news conference. ”We are trying to live with it, without getting too far, getting too carried away. We’re just doing what is necessary.”
That could easily describe France’s path to the final.
In both the quarterfinals against England and the semifinals against Morocco, the French have come out strong to take a first-half lead and then been content to soak up pressure and play on the counterattack – a tactic that worked four years ago on the country’s run to the World Cup title.
Can that also work against Argentina, with Messi in such scintillating form?
”Things always happen in a match for which you are not prepared,” said France captain Hugo Lloris, who is looking to become the first man to captain a team to the World Cup title twice. ”That is where you need to show a good team spirit and you also need to have that feeling of pulling out all the stops and digging deep in those tough moments.
”We are good as a team because we know how to adapt to different scenarios.”
What France knows is that Messi will be the fulcrum of everything Argentina does on his mission to win the only big title that has eluded him in soccer.
Lloris, however, said it would be dangerous for his team to just think about Messi.
”I believe the event is too massive to just focus on one player,” the goalkeeper said. ”It is a final between two big football nations. Obviously when you face that type of player, you need a special focus on him, but it’s not only about him.
”Argentina is a strong team and there are a lot of other players – a young generation coming through – and you can feel they are all dedicated to Leo Messi.”
Deschamps did not disclose if any players laid low by the virus would miss the final, saying he would know more later Saturday when the team trained. Upamecano and Rabiot were back in training on Friday.
One player who definitely won’t be involved in Sunday’s title match is Benzema, who tore a muscle in his left thigh during training the day before the World Cup started.
Benzema, the reigning world player of the year, has returned to training with Real Madrid even though he’s still registered in France’s squad.
Deschamps does not want to talk any more about the striker.
”Since the beginning of the World Cup, he has been injured and (left back) Lucas Hernandez got injured in the first game,” Deschamps said. ”From that point onward, I have 24 players in my squad.
”You know who those players are. They are the players at my disposal and I don’t think it’s fair to those players to ask about players who aren’t here.”
Benzema took to Instagram late Friday and posted a picture of himself next to the words: ”I’m not interested.” It wasn’t immediately obvious what the context was around his post.
Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports