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World Cup 2022 – Final

A Rollercoaster of Emotion

It’s been a fascinating World Cup with records broken, cup upsets, lower ranked teams making semi-finals, but most importantly, the games have been exciting for everyone to watch.

Argentina headed into the tournament 36 matches unbeaten and were one of the favourites to win, however their campaign started rocky losing to Saudi Arabia 2-1. Following this, the Argentines won all their remaining fixtures with the Netherlands and France taking them to extra time and penalties in the knockout stages and the final. Messi, with the most goal contributions since 1966 produced 13 goals and 8 assists (21 total goal contributions) and was of paramount importance to their success, but was Argentina a 1 man team? With Aston Villa goalkeeper, Emiliano Martinez winning the golden glove and saving his team in 2 penalty shootouts, it’s argued he was just as important as Messi. Winning a World Cup makes you question, how hard is it to achieve elite performance? What sacrifices do young aspiring players need have? But importantly, can you enjoy your on-field successes? Well by seeing Messi dancing with the World Cup, players can absolutely enjoy success, the image below makes us not only feel connected to his achievement, but it displays his enjoyment and true passion for winning his dream trophy.

France on the other hand, whilst also one of the favourites, were World Cup holders and the pressure was on them to retain the trophy. The group stages saw 2 wins out of 3, with a shock loss to Tunisia. Whilst losing out on penalties in the final, the tournament provided great achievements for some French players with Mbappe winning the golden boot and surpassed Pele’s record for most World Cup goals before the age of 24. Giroud had a disappointing final, had some pre match controversy surrounding his starting place through injury, but overall still managed to become France’s all time top goal scorer. With reported illness in the French camp before the fixture, could this have disturbed preparation for arguably the biggest game of their career? Imagine the disappointment, the anguish, the frustration. Well it’s not uncommon for all professional, academy and even grassroots players to endure this during their career, how do you come back from such disappointment? Do psychological interventions help?

The Game

France set up with their normal 4-2-3-1 formation with Mbappe on the left, Giroud playing CF and Dembele on the right. Greizman played the No.10 role and looked to link up play in wide areas getting the ball delivered into the box for target man Giroud. Argentina, on the other hand, started with their usual formation (4-3-3) but instead started Di Maria as left midfield. Putting this into context, Di Maria didn’t start any knockout games and during the group stages, started as right midfield. With France clearly attempting to set up to defend against Messi, they did not prepare to nullify Di Maria who won a penalty and scored on the night.

The game started with Argentina dominating play both in and out of possession. They were direct in their attack with play usually coming from the central man (No.10) Messi. What was vital to their game plan though, was their press. The Argentines, allowed no time on the ball for France and distributed their patterns of play regularly, alternatively France allowed Argentina to have the ball and were punished with two early goals from Messi (23’) and Di Maria (36’). After a poor first half from France, both Giroud and Dembele were substituted for Thuram and Kolo Muani (41’) who made a positive impact.

The second half started quite differently, Argentina allowed France to have the ball and tried to sit back and protect their lead, a plan that didn’t work. With France’s possession in more attacking areas, it was a matter of time before a goal occurred. A double set back! France won a penalty from a Otamendi dragging down Kolo Muani, not only did Mbappe score this, but 1 minute later scored a fantastic side footed placed volley to make it 2-2 with only 10 minutes left. The game now is end to end with both teams trying to win it.

Extra time saw great intensity from both teams trying to win. With both teams fatigued, pressing the ball and making mistakes, the end to end game carried on with fantastic chances, goalkeeping and goals at both ends. Messi scores in 108’ to make it 3-2, was he offside? Did it go over the line? Messi didn’t care with his celebration he was certain it was a goal. With the cup looking head into Messi’s hands, Mpabbe wins another France penalty from a blocked shot with the hands. With Mbappe scoring this in 118’ the game was destining to go to penalties.

Penalties, regardless of being on the biggest stage, is a nervous high-pressure time and the biggest thing standing in the way of players is anxiety. There are numerous psychological interventions used in the build up to help penalty takers cope with anxiety and pressure such as imagery, self-talk and different breathing techniques. Stood at the opposite end is the goalkeeper, he will have memorised penalty takers run ups, body positions, where they’re likely to place the ball and will he attempt to put them off. Martinez was an expert of this, whilst throwing the ball away for Tchouameni penalty could be argued to be un-sportsmanship like, it allowed a pressure build up with more time to think and he missed giving himself and Argentina a competitive advantage. Argentina win 4-2 on penalties and the Cup was in Messi’s hands for his final match World Cup match.

Overall, a fascinating and inspiring World Cup final to watch. The emotions from Argentina thinking they’ve won it twice, down to France overcoming setbacks with two comebacks. Some would think France would’ve won at 2-2 with them having the upper hand and momentum. This game makes you question, how players from both teams, dealt with high pressure and remained mentally tough to compete at this level of performance. How does this transfer into coaching young players and can we support them psychologically into dealing with setbacks in their own, current careers.

Author: James Robinson
Date: 19/12/2022