South America’s prime talent factory faces off against Europe’s prime talent factory

<span>Photograph: Noushad Thekkayil/EPA</span>
Photograph: Noushad Thekkayil/EPA


The Human Rights World Cup is coming up Qatar. Hurrah for Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani. Hurrah for sometime Doha resident Gianni Infantino. Hurrah for They Think It’s All Over legacy fan Hassan al-Thawadi. Especial congratulations to Nasser al-Khelaifi, chairman of Qatar Sports Investments, president of Paris Saint-Germain, chairman of the European Club Association and one of the most powerful suits in global sport, because his boys, Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé, will be in Sunday’s final. Shame about Neymar, but you can’t win them all, as PSG find out each year in Big Cup.

The stage is set for Argentina v France, South America’s prime talent factory against Europe’s prime talent factory. And, in these times of heavy recency bias, the outgoing world’s best ever player for the incoming world’s best ever player. The younger man did not have it all his own way in Wednesday’s semi with Morocco. Achraf Hakimi, another Al-Khelaifi asset at PSG, kept Mbappé quiet for long periods, though he did have key roles in both French goals. Mbappé and Hakimi shared a Bobby Moore-Pelé moment of respect afterwards, and then kicked around in the tunnel. They’re just these guys, you know.

This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting 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 gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

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Mbappé, though he may surge with the speed of a nitro-boosted cheetah, shares his Argentinian counterpart’s skill in being around for those moments that change matches and therefore shape international history. And at 23, already has a World Cup winner’s medal. At 35, Messi is chasing down the ghost of Diego Maradona when his predecessor as the world’s best ever player inspired Argentina to glory at Mexico ‘86, fully 10 years younger. It will not be easy.

Which of them has the superior supporting cast? Antoine Griezmann’s repurposing has converted him into a playmaker of the ilk of Andrea Pirlo and Andrés Iniesta, while Messi has potent worker-bee support in Julián Álvarez. Aurélien Tchouaméni has rendered Paul Pogba a distant memory while Enzo Fernández, who can play three midfield positions at once, will be a name to crash search engines when the transfer window swings open in – sigh – 16 days! There are weaknesses, too. Théo Hernandez scored a nice goal against Morocco but can be got at, as Bukayo Saka proved. Nicolas Otámendi is always gonna Otámendi. Therein lies an inherent beauty of international football. Not even Al-Khelaifi can buy big to plump up a national team. Thus the World Cup retains at least an ounce of purity.


There’s no HRWC action but Women’s Big Cup can provide you with your MBM kicks. Join Sarah Rendell from 7pm GMT for coverage of Arsenal 1-1 Lyon.


“The stories of stolen wages and broken dreams are part of our everyday life. We are far too familiar with images of coffins arriving at Tribhuvan International airport … We therefore call on you, President Infantino, to stop looking the other way while the citizens of our country – and all other nationalities – are denied their rights” – an open letter from more than three dozen Nepali civil society groups demands compensation from Fifa for workers in Qatar who they said had suffered abuse, and families who have lost loved ones.


I have always been impressed by the great national football team that play in the dark blue shirts: their immense talent, their winning mentality, their sublime skills, their swagger … They are pure joy and a real pleasure to watch. So, when exactly does Scotland’s Euro 2024 qualifying campaign start?” – Bogdan Kotarlic.

It seems Mateo Kovacic (yesterday’s News, Bits and Bobs) and I have something in common. He never talks about the referees; I never send hastily written, poorly-thought-through emails to the Daily. It’s uncanny, really” – Edward Dean.

I quite … well, moderately like what you did with the balance of yesterday’s email edition header and main image, which obviously render differently to how Football Daily looks on Big Website. I look forward – sort of – to seeing what your picture editors come up with down the line” – Claire Henderson.

Send your letters to Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Bogdan Kotarlic.


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