Welcome to the world’s biggest, blingiest salad bowl — the Lusail Iconic Stadium! The word “iconic” is actually in the title of the venue, just in case you don’t think it merits the accolade.
Its spectacular architecture looks as though it’s been dipped in gold, and it is a fitting arena for a match that will decide both the World Cup and the Golden Boot race for most goals.
Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé have arrived here as the tournament’s top scorers with five goals each.
Tens of thousands of supporters got here early, and they have been streaming inside for the last couple of hours. The shelves of the complimentary flag stall had been picked clean an hour and 45 minutes before kickoff.
It feels like we’re in Buenos Aires. Argentina’s supporters vastly outnumber the French fans here, and their legion has been bolstered by countless supporters from Asia who revere Messi.
Every Argentina supporter believes that they’re going to witness a destiny fulfilled today. That is, in the first World Cup since the passing of Argentine icon Diego Maradona, Messi will finally lift the trophy in his last ever World Cup match, taking his place alongside his late compatriot in the pantheon.
Finding French supporters here is like unearthing a truffle. They know that there aren’t many of them, but they’re going to try and make themselves heard in the cavernous stadium.
Outside, their plucky chants of “Allez Les Bleus,” seem almost defiant, but they know that France stands on the brink of history itself, potentially the first side to win back-to-back titles since Brazil in 1962. And if Mbappé can get his hands on a second World Cup at the age of just 23, we could be lauding him as the next Pelé.
Fate will now decide the outcome, but as an Argentine fan walks by me with Messi’s face on one side of his drum and Maradona’s image on the other, I can hear the Argentina fans’ song which has become the unofficial soundtrack to this whole tournament.
It almost sounds like a lullaby, ending with the verse: “Now let’s get excited, I want to win the third World Cup. I want to be world champion. And Diego — we can see him from heaven, encouraging Lionel to be champions again.”