France were on Saturday anxiously awaiting news on the health of three key players on the eve of the World Cup final against an Argentina side led by Lionel Messi.
While the finalists prepare to do battle for football’s biggest prize, Morocco and Croatia have to pick themselves up to contest the third-place playoff on Saturday.
Defending champions France were forced to exclude central defenders Raphael Varane and Ibrahima Konate and winger Kingsley Coman from a training session on Friday because they had cold-like symptoms.
The trio of absentees sparked further fears of a virus in the French camp after two players – Adrien Rabiot and Dayot Upamecano – were ruled out of the semifinal win over Morocco.
Rabiot and Upamecano have both returned to training.
Coman had already been forced to miss training on Thursday because of a “light viral syndrome”, the French Football Federation said.
France forward Randal Kolo Muani sought to play down the illnesses on Friday.
“There is little bit of flu going around but nothing serious,” he said.
Earlier this week, France coach Didier Deschamps suggested the frigid air conditioning in Qatar might be to blame.
“The air conditioning is on all the time and so we have had a few cases of flu-like symptoms but we will try to avoid it spreading,” Deschamps said.
France are aiming to become the first team to win back-to-back World Cups since Brazil achieved the feat in 1962 as Argentina captain Messi looks to crown his glorious career with the one major title that has eluded him.
Anticipation for the showdown between the European and South American heavyweights is reaching fever pitch, with the cheapest tickets on the secondary market changing hands for more than $4,000.
Argentina fans who have flooded into Qatar for the tournament demonstrated for a second day outside a Doha hotel on Friday, demanding their country’s national federation help them find tickets for the final.
‘The idiot’s position’
On Saturday, a Morocco side whose history-making run to the semifinals caught the world’s imagination have a chance to win the bronze medal.
They will face Croatia, the beaten finalists in 2018 who exceeded expectations in Qatar to reach the semifinals only to be abruptly halted by an inspired Messi and his protege Julian Alvarez.
Walid Regragui, the coach of Morocco, the first African or Arab side ever to reach the last four of the World Cup, said the third-place playoff “annoys me a little”.
“It’s always very difficult for the two teams after such a big disappointment as losing a semifinal, to play another match two days later,” Regragui said in a press conference.
“As far as I’m concerned, you are in the idiot’s position if you are third or fourth.”
However, Croatia forward Andrej Kramaric said his teammates’ motivation would be high because winning a medal would “make you a hero for all time” in the country of 3.9 million people.
Sunday’s final at the 89,000-capacity Lusail Stadium will bring one of the most controversial World Cups in history to a close.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino shrugged off criticism of the event, describing it as the “best World Cup ever”.
“The World Cup has been an incredible success on all fronts,” Infantino said in a press conference on Friday.
“The main one being the fans, the behaviour, the joyful atmosphere, the bringing of people together. The fans meeting the Arab world, it has been very important for the future of all of us.”
Infantino said the tournament had exceeded revenue predictions in the four years leading to 2022, rising to a record $7.5 billion – $1 billion more than the previous four-year period leading to the 2018 World Cup.
He said Fifa expected revenues to increase to $11 billion in the years leading to the 2026 tournament, which will expand from 32 to 48 teams. That tournament is being jointly hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico.
“We are convinced the impact of the game will be massive,” Infantino said. “It has been massive here and it will be incredible in North America.”