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Saturday Sports: France and Argentina face off in the 2022 World Cup final on Sunday

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Excuse me. Let me get hold of myself. World Cup final tomorrow - will France repeat, or will Lionel Messi cap his career with the cup? I'm joined now from Doha by NPR's Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: OK. Hit me. I'm ready.

SIMON: All right.

GOLDMAN: I'm holding on.

SIMON: As we say in our Chicago French Chinese family, (speaking French). But Argentina is favored, right?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, slightly. But I'm going with you and the family, but maybe not as loud. I think France...

SIMON: Yeah, keep it down. You're in Doha, man. Yeah.

GOLDMAN: I know, really. I think France has more good players. Beyond the dazzling 23-year-old Kylian Mbappe, you have the versatile Antoine Griezmann, the crafty veteran Olivier Giroud. You have goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. How's my French so far? He was an absolute wall versus Morocco in the semifinal.

SIMON: Yeah, like I know.

GOLDMAN: France...

SIMON: But go ahead. Yes.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. France has been doing this without several of its top players who were injured before the tournament. But the French are so deep. They have one of the world's best development systems for new talent. And they have been able to plug the holes and keep winning.

SIMON: The French are deep people, too, Tom. I just want that noted, OK? The French are very deep as human beings. But go ahead. Yes.

GOLDMAN: Can I finish? Can I finish?

SIMON: (Laughter) All right. You're there.

GOLDMAN: They've got this great development system. They've got the - you know, for the new talent. And they've been able to plug the holes and keep winning even when they've been outplayed, and they have been at times during the tournament, Scott. It pains me to predict the great Argentine Lionel Messi will get this far and not win his first World Cup in what he says is his last World Cup. All I can say, if he does win, I will apologize on this program for my impertinence in doubting the great Messi.

SIMON: Yes, well, he's a great player. How great were the matches in this World Cup?

GOLDMAN: They were great - upsets, thrills. The last week of the group stage stands out in particular with all its nail-biters. In the end, there was a familiar meeting in the final, a European power versus a South American power. Here's a little factoid you can use to impress people - 85 of the 88 semifinalists in the history of the Men's World Cup are from those two continents. But if you look at the totality of the tournament, there were some plates shifting underneath. Certainly, Saudi Arabia's upset of Argentina was an eye-opener, and then, of course, Morocco's historic run to the semifinals, first African nation to get there. With the tournament exploding from 32 teams to 48, next time, there are going to be a lot of smaller new countries emboldened, I think, by what the so-called little guys did at this World Cup.

SIMON: Yeah. Qatar paid dearly - fines, construction cost, cash in envelopes - to get this World Cup. Did it show the world the face they wanted?

GOLDMAN: You know, they believe they did get their money's worth, over 200 billion. They created this new world in Doha with huge, colorful, lit buildings, a new subway system, highways, seven brand-new stadiums. The compact nature of it was fantastic for fans who could easily get to so many matches. The event has worked, and the cherry on top for Qatar is that the two superstars in the final, Mbappe and Messi, both play for their clubs - that...

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: ...Both play their club soccer at Paris Saint-Germain, which is owned by Qatar Sports Investment.

SIMON: But there is controversy, and the world did pay attention, at least for a few minutes, to that, too, didn't they?

GOLDMAN: It sure did. You know, the beer sales being banned at the last minute, detaining people for wearing rainbow gear in support of LGBTQ rights, a constant spotlight on mistreatment of migrant workers, especially the ones who built the World Cup infrastructure - you know, we talked about it. Whether things will change now that the tournament's over and the circus is packing up - hard to say.

SIMON: Yeah. NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks very much, and enjoy covering the match.

GOLDMAN: Thank you so much.

SIMON: And thanks for all your fine reporting from there.

GOLDMAN: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: And I've run out of things to thank you for, but in any event...

GOLDMAN: Keep going.

SIMON: Yeah, I - do we have any time? Oh, I'm sorry. We've run out of time, Tom Goldman.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.
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