With 62 games completed, only two matches remain at the World Cup in Qatar: the third-place playoff between Croatia and Morocco on Saturday, and the final itself between Argentina and defending champions France 24 hours later.
Lionel Messi has already stated that this will be his final World Cup match for the Albiceleste, win or lose, and the stage is set for the 35-year-old forward to leave on a high note.
France, on the other hand, is eager to become the championship’s first back-to-back champions since the great Brazil teams of 1958 and 1962, and Les Bleus have their own talismanic superstar in Kylian Mbappe, who they hope will spur them on in their quest.
Aside from the World Cup, there are still a number of individual awards to be given out after the final on Sunday, including the Golden Boot, Golden Glove, and Golden Ball. Given the various players still in the running, all three could be decided over the course of the two remaining games.
The Golden Boot is awarded to the top goal scorer in the World Cup, and as of now, opposing finalists Messi and Mbappe are tied for first place with five goals each.
But this isn’t a two-horse race, as Julian Alvarez of Argentina and Olivier Giroud of France are both on four goals, with the latter also surpassing Thierry Henry to become France’s all-time men’s goal scorer during this World Cup.
The Golden Boot is primarily determined by an individual player’s total number of goals scored during the tournament, but if there is any level-pegging at the top at the end of play, the award is settled using tiebreaker criteria: first assists, then fewest minutes played.
As a result, Messi leads the standings with three assists for Argentina (the joint-most of any player at the tournament), while Mbappe has two assists for his France teammates. However, this could all change during the final, in which Messi has played 570 minutes, significantly more than Mbappe’s 477.
There have previously been extremely close Golden Boot races decided in this manner. For example, Thomas Muller won the 2010 race despite being one of four players to score five goals in South Africa, along with Wesley Sneijder, David Villa, and Diego Forlan. The German received the award for his three assists.
Only two other players in the standings who are still active and have more than one goal to their name are Messi, Mbappe, Alvarez, and Giroud. Andrej Kramaric of Croatia and Youssef En-Nesyri of Morocco have each scored two goals so far, but they will need to produce something truly extraordinary in the third-place game if they are to leapfrog their opponents.
Since its inception in 1994, the Golden Glove has been awarded to the best performing goalkeeper at the World Cup, with notable winners including Oliver Kahn, Iker Casillas, Manuel Neuer, and Gianluigi Buffon.
The FIFA Technical Study Group, or “technical committee,” decides the winner, which is more subjective than the Golden Boot. If the vote is tied, the goalkeeper who advanced the furthest in the competition will be declared the winner. If a tiebreaker is required, the award will go to the shot-stopper with the most saves, followed by the shot-stopper with the most minutes played.
Emi Martinez (Argentina), Hugo Lloris (France), Dominik Livakovic (Croatia), and Yassine Bounou (Morocco) are the four goalkeepers who have advanced to the World Cup’s final two games.
Bounou, Livakovic, and Martinez have all won at least one penalty shootout in Qatar, but Lloris has made numerous stunning saves as Les Bleus advance to their second final in four years.
The Golden Ball is awarded to the best player in the World Cup, and the selection process is again subjective, with select members of the global media voting on a shortlist of contenders drawn up by the FIFA technical committee.
While the final result will determine the final outcome, it’s safe to say that Messi and Mbappe are the two main contenders for the 2022 award thanks to the match-winning genius they’ve provided along the way.
Midfield maestros Luka Modric and Antoine Griezmann, as well as other standouts like Livakovic and Achraf Hakimi, are likely to be considered initially, but the deciding factor will undoubtedly be who performs best in Lusail on Sunday — Messi or Mbappe.
The Golden Ball trophy was first presented in 1982, to Italy striker Paolo Rossi (who also won the Golden Boot that year). Since then, a slew of great names have received the award, including Diego Maradona (1986), Ronaldo (1998), and Modric (2018).
Messi has previously won the Golden Ball, though he did so after losing in the final to Germany in 2014, leading to some strange images of the dejected Argentine having to hold his player of the tournament aloft amid the German celebrations.
Similarly, despite being sent off for headbutting an opponent and then losing on penalties to Italy in the World Cup final in 2006, France’s talisman Zinedine Zidane was forced to collect the Golden Ball.
Kahn is the only goalkeeper to have won the Golden Ball for his outstanding performances between the posts for Germany at the 2002 World Cup, which also earned him the Golden Glove.