The biggest game in football takes place on Sunday afternoon with two of the brightest stars in the game looking to cement their place in history.

Defending champions France take on Argentina at the Lusail Stadium to bring one of the strangest and, for the most part, entertaining World Cups in recent memory to a conclusion.

Argentina and France are teams that, for all the twists, turns and shocks in Qatar, started the tournament among the favourites and are the last two standing having survived some pretty big banana skins in the semi-finals.

Two players stood out in those games as France overcame the dogged threat of Morocco and Argentina finally answered the 'when will Croatia get tired?' question.

That it was PSG team-mates Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe who took the headlines and the plaudits in those semi-finals will not have come as a surprise.

Messi has already confirmed that the final will be his last ever World Cup game and there’s a groundswell of support from Argentine fans and neutrals alike for him to bow out with a winner’s medal, having basically won everything else as a player.

As a 35-year-old, the Argentine talisman has had to reinvent himself as a player and having lost some of his natural pace to the aging process, Messi has developed into more of a creator than a finisher and those around him are reaping the rewards.

Messi has always carried the weight of expectation as a player for Argentina and has, at times, appeared to buckle under it.

Marked out as the natural heir to Diego Maradona from a young age, the diminutive attacker struggled to match his club success on the international stage. That he was surrounded by a better calibre of player at Barcelona than at Argentina only seemed to increase the pressure and expectation on Messi and he often seemed obliged to take on added responsibility for his country.

Making his World Cup debut as an 18-year-old in 2006, Messi watched from the bench as his side went out on penalties to Germany. He had cemented his place in the starting XI by 2010 and carried much of his country's hopes on his shoulders in South Africa but only impressed in flashes, exiting the tournament without a goal to his name as Germany once again got the better of Argentina.

Brazil 2014 was a bittersweet tournament for Messi as he scored four goals and bagged an assist, almost single-handily dragging Argentina to the final with some stunning individual performances before Germany eventually ended his dreams again, with a 1-0 victory in the final.

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That tournament represented Messi at the height of his powers as a thrilling individual attacker and while he impressed in the group stages at Russia 2018, a last-16 defeat to France saw Argentina exit the tournament early on.

In Qatar, we've seen a different Messi than from previous World Cups, but still a hugely effective one as the veteran has reinvented himself as a player. No longer the pacey winger cutting inside to torment defenders, his vision and technique are now more to the fore as his highlight reel is more about creativity and assists than anything else.

When the final has been played and tournament highlight montages are clipped together, it won’t be Messi’s goals that take centre stage but rather his assists – particularly his stunning no-look pass to Nahuel Molina against the Netherlands and his mazy run and cut-back pass which put the ball on a plate for Julian Alvarez to score against Croatia.

Messi’s newfound role as a deeper-lying play-maker speaks to his selflessness as a player and his performances and attitude in Qatar stand out in marked contrast to that of long-term rival Cristiano Ronaldo who unlike the Argentine, has been unable to find new ways to make an impact as his legs go.

Despite his reinvented role, Messi is still sitting atop the Golden Boot standings on five goals – albeit three of them were penalties and he’s level pegging with PSG team-mate and Sunday’s opponent Mbappe – a fitting subplot for the final.

Mbappe goes into the final with a World Cup winners medal already taking pride of place in his collection and is chasing a more unique record as he seeks to become the first player since Pele to win two World Cups at the age of 23.

Already the highest paid player in the world as PSG threw ever-increasing numbers his way to convince him to spurn Real Madrid’s interest, Mbappe is the face of French soccer, the superstar in an international team of stars and the player who, at a club featuring Messi and Neymar, is seen as the most important.

Equal parts speed, strength and guile, Mbappe is closer to being Ronaldo’s natural successor than Messi’s in terms of style and output, displaying much of the explosive pace and powerful finishing that the Portuguese star showed in his heyday.

Already a leader in the French dressing room, who was willing to take the battle to the French FA over image rights before the World Cup – with the backing of his team-mates – Mbappe looks like being next in line for the captain’s armband once Hugo Lloris hangs up his gloves.

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Unlike Messi, who for long spells of his career, appeared to struggle to match his club form for his country, Mbappe appears to be more comfortable while on international duty and he admits that he prefers the added freedom and responsibility he is afforded by France.

When it comes to Les Bleus, Mbappe is the focal point and doesn’t have to contend with the likes of Messi and Neymar to run the show as opposed being the link-up man at PSG.

French boss Didier Deschamps knows that to get the best out of Mbappe, he has to build the team around him, which he has, affording him the freedom to play a roving attacking role.

"What they ask of me here [with France] is different," Mbappe admitted. "Here, I have much more freedom than at PSG. The coach knows that there is a number nine, like Giroud, and so I can move and go into space.

"In Paris it is different. They ask me to play pivot, although I enjoy playing everywhere."

That approach has paid dividends for France and Deschamps and the man once dismissed as a "water carrier" by Eric Cantona is 90 minutes away from winning back-to-back World Cups.

It’s promises to be a delicately poised final and for many the outcome of Sunday’s game will either represent a symbolic changing of the guard with Mbappe taking the crown of the world’s best player along or Messi signalling the culmination of a stunning career by bowing out of the World Cup on top and completing his medal haul.

Follow the 2022 World Cup final between Argentina and France via our live blog on RTÉ.ie/sport and the RTÉ News app, watch live on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player or listen live on RTÉ Radio 1's Sunday Sport.