Messi vs Mbappe final gives under-fire Qatar its dream World Cup showpiece

Messi vs Mbappe final gives under-fire Qatar its dream World Cup showpiece - Telegraph Sport/Tom Morgan
Messi vs Mbappe final gives under-fire Qatar its dream World Cup showpiece - Telegraph Sport/Tom Morgan

The grins were wider than the Seine River as the two most powerful men at the Al Bayt Stadium enjoyed a discreet half-time tête-à-tête in a corridor next to the VIP area. A second successful World Cup final for France edged closer with soft power from the political gods for Emmanuel Macron, the opportunistic president who flew in that day.

But as he warmly embraced Paris St-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, he came face to face with a man with even greater cause for celebration. A dream final looming for the PSG coffers – Kylian Mbappé v Lionel Messi – but the broad smile on the owner's face, in a picture obtained by Telegraph Sport, was about even more.

PSG is just one of the many hats that Al-Khelaifi wears as the man holding the purse strings on Qatar’s enormous sovereign wealth fund for sport. He also runs the Bein media empire, and works as a key member of the World Cup organising committee. After all that strife, all the relentless, often justified, criticism that Qatar has taken at this World Cup, Al-Khelaifi and his associates have secured a box office final showdown that makes it all worthwhile.

Mbappé and Messi, the two greatest players in the game, going head to head in the final. The fact that they are both already on the Qatari payroll at PSG goes above and beyond even the wildest dreams that the country had envisaged when they first won the tournament in 2010.

Lionel Messi vs Kylian Mbappe is the final Qatar so desperately wanted - Getty Images/Denis Charlet
Lionel Messi vs Kylian Mbappe is the final Qatar so desperately wanted - Getty Images/Denis Charlet

The Frenchman, of course, would have been 11 when the emir's predecessor, Hamad bin Khalifa met Sepp Blatter, then Fifa president, and discussed a World Cup finals in the tiny Gulf state over dinner for the first time.

Mbappé has grown up in a football world in which the controversies have been relentless since. Allegations of corruption as the Gulf country defeated bids from South Korea, Japan, Australia and the United States were denied. Qatar has also pushed back at reports at the deaths of 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were directly related to World Cup development.

But while the furore around Gianni Infantino’s speech at the start of this tournament immediately again stirred human rights charities into action again, now Qatar believes it is winning the argument.

After a build-up when even the disgraced Sepp Blatter said the concept is a mistake, his successor Gianni Infantino will stay the opposite is true as we reach the final days of this tournament.

He will cite Morocco’s miracle journey to the semi-final - breaking new ground for an Arab world - as an example of football reaching new corners like never before.

Yet it is the Messi-Mbappé show that will delight the hosts the most. After that disastrous Infantino diatribe got this tournament off to the worst possible start. Years of failing to address criticism around human rights had failed miserably to dim condemnation. So too did Infantino’s begging letter to the competing nations to "stick to football" instead of pulling on their OneLove armbands.

But now, as they look ahead to the final still battered and bruised, the Qataris believe, thanks to Messi and Mbappé, they have won the war.