With 62 games now done and dusted, just two matches are yet to be played at the World Cup in Qatar: the third-place playoff between Croatia and Morocco on Saturday, Dec. 17 and then the small matter of the final itself, between Argentina and defending champions France 24 hours later.
Lionel Messi has already vowed that, win or lose, the 2022 final in Lusail will be his last World Cup match for the Albiceleste and the stage is certainly set for the 35-year-old forward to go out on the ultimate high.
However, France are equally keen to become the championship’s first back-to-back winners since the great Brazil sides of 1958 and 1962, and Les Bleus also boast their very own talismanic superstar in Kylian Mbappe who they hope will spur them on in their quest.
But as well as the World Cup itself, there are also still a number of individual prizes on the line as the Golden Boot, Golden Glove and Golden Ball awards will be handed out after the final concludes on Sunday. Indeed, all three could still be decided over the course of the two games remaining at the 2022 World Cup given the various players left in the running.
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The Golden Boot is awarded to the top goal scorer at the World Cup and, as things stand, opposing finalists Messi and Mbappe are joint front-runners with five goals to their name heading into the final.
But this is no two-horse race, as Julian Alvarez of Argentina and Olivier Giroud of France are only just behind on four goals apiece, with the latter also having the distinction of overtaking Thierry Henry to become France’s all-time record men’s goal-scorer during the 2022 World Cup.
The Golden Boot is primarily decided on total number of goals scored by an individual player at the tournament, but should there be any level-pegging at the summit come the close of play then the award is settled using tie-breaker criteria: first assists, then fewest minutes played.
Therefore Messi is leading the standings by contributing three assists to Argentina’s cause (the joint-most of any player at the tournament) while Mbappe has laid on two assists for his France teammates. However, this could all change during the final.
There have been extremely tight Golden Boot races settled in this manner before. For example, the 2010 race was eventually won by Thomas Muller despite him being one of four players to score five goals in South Africa along with Wesley Sneijder, David Villa and Diego Forlan. The German was given the award by virtue of his three assists.
When it comes to the 2022 Golden Boot race, there is only one other player beneath Messi, Mbappe, Alavarez and Giroud in the standings who is still active and has more than one goal to his credit. Morocco striker Youssef En-Nesyri has netted two goals so far but will therefore need to produce something truly extraordinary against Croatia if he is to usurp his rivals and claim the award for himself.
The Golden Glove is bestowed upon the best performing goalkeeper at the World Cup, with some huge names winning in the past — including Oliver Kahn, Iker Casillas, Manuel Neuer, Gianluigi Buffonl — since the award was first inaugurated in 1994.
More subjective than the Golden Boot, the winner is decided by the FIFA Technical Study Group, or “technical committee,” as they’re often referred. Should a stalemate arise in the deliberation, the winner will be the goalkeeper who progressed furthest in the competition. Should a further tie-breaker be required, the award will go to the shot-stopper who made the most saves, then the most minutes played.
Emi Martinez (Argentina), Hugo Lloris (France), Dominik Livakovic (Croatia) and Yassine Bounou (Morocco) are the four goalkeepers to progress into the final two fixtures at the 2022 World Cup.
Bounou, Livakovic and Martinez have all emerged victorious from at least one penalty shootout each in Qatar, although Lloris has made plenty of stunning saves as Les Bleus advanced to their second final in four years.
The Golden Ball is bestowed upon the best player at the World Cup and again features a more subjective selection process, with select members of the global media voting on a shortlist of contenders drawn up by the FIFA technical committee.
While the definitive outcome may depend on the result in the final, it’s safe to suggest that Messi and Mbappe are the two main contenders for 2022 award thanks to the moments of match-winning genius they’ve provided along the way.
Midfield maestros Luka Modric and Antoine Griezmann are also likely to be considered along with fellow standouts like Livakovic and Achraf Hakimi, but you feel like the clincher will be who fares best in Lusail on Sunday — Messi or Mbappe.
The Golden Ball award was first handed out in 1982 when it was claimed by Italy striker Paolo Rossi (who also won the Golden Boot that year). Since then, a litany of great names have taken the plaudits with Diego Maradona (1986), Ronaldo (1998) and Modric (2018) among the recipients.
Messi is a previous winner, though he picked up the 2014 Golden Ball after losing in the final against Germany, leading to some odd images of the dejected Argentine having to hold his player of the tournament aloft amid the German celebrations.
Similarly, France talisman Zinedine Zidane was forced to collect the Golden Ball at the 2006 World Cup despite getting sent off for headbutting an opponent and then France subsequently losing on penalties against Italy in the final.
Kahn remains the only goalkeeper to win the Golden Ball thanks to his stellar performances between the sticks for Germany at the 2002 World Cup, which also served to earn him the Golden Glove as well.
Who is winning the race for the Golden Ball?