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Argentina and France Prepare for World Cup Final Showdown

The tournament has underscored just how intertwined sports and geopolitics can be.

By , a reporter at Foreign Policy.
Argentine soccer player Julián Álvarez celebrates with teammate Lionel Messi.
Argentine soccer player Julián Álvarez celebrates with teammate Lionel Messi.
Argentine soccer player Julián Álvarez celebrates with teammate Lionel Messi after scoring their side’s second goal during the 2022 FIFA World Cup semi-final match between Argentina and Croatia at Lusail Stadium in Qatar on Dec. 13. Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Hello! Starting next week, Morning Brief will be taking a holiday break. When it returns to your inbox on Jan. 2, it will come from Emily Tamkin, a journalist in Washington who has covered foreign policy and U.S. politics for several years, while I will be reporting for FP. Thank you for joining me for the past few months; it’s been a real pleasure to unpack the day’s biggest stories with you.

Hello! Starting next week, Morning Brief will be taking a holiday break. When it returns to your inbox on Jan. 2, it will come from Emily Tamkin, a journalist in Washington who has covered foreign policy and U.S. politics for several years, while I will be reporting for FP. Thank you for joining me for the past few months; it’s been a real pleasure to unpack the day’s biggest stories with you.

With that said, welcome to today’s edition, where we’re looking at Argentina and France’s upcoming showdown at the World Cup final, British nurses’ historic strike, and how Washington plans to scale up training of Ukrainian troops. 

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Powerhouses Face Off at World Cup Final

After nearly four exhilarating weeks—or heartbreaking ones, depending on where you stand—the 2022 FIFA World Cup will conclude this weekend with a battle between two soccer powerhouses: Argentina and France.

Argentina has triumphed in the World Cup twice before, and this will be the sixth time that it has reached the final match. France, the defending champion, also has two World Cup titles under its belt. Both teams boast soccer legends—namely Argentina’s Lionel Messi and France’s Kylian Mbappé—and legions of adoring fans who have pinned their hopes on Sunday’s game. (Messi and Mbappé, as it so happens, also play for the same Qatari-owned team, Paris Saint-Germain.) 

Vying for third place are Croatia and Morocco, which pulled off a historic run that thrilled and electrified Arab and African nations. In Qatar, Morocco became the first African country to make it to the semifinals and the first Arab squad country to qualify for the quarterfinals. The team linked its triumphs to the Palestinian cause, proudly waving the Palestinian flag after defeating Spain—underscoring just how intertwined sports and geopolitics can be. 

This has been particularly evident in this year’s World Cup, where even before the tournament began, Doha faced backlash for its human rights record and treatment of migrant workers. As Iran cracked down on anti-government demonstrations, the Iranian team remained silent while their national anthem played. Foreign Policy has chronicled the geopolitical issues shaping the competition, including how Persian Gulf states capitalize on the soft power of soccer in Latin America, what the German soccer team’s past says about Germany’s citizenship policy, and why refugees were key to Australia’s run to the Round of 16. 

At the last World Cup, nearly half of the global population age 4 and older watched the tournament unfold. Even more people are expected to tune in this year, with FIFA officials predicting 5 billion viewers—potentially making it the most-viewed World Cup ever. 

Expect the next tournament—which will take place across the United States, Mexico, and Canada—to look considerably different. Instead of 32 teams, there will be 48 competitors, meaning a greater number of games and a more intense competition.


What We’re Following Today

British nurses go on strike. Facing soaring inflation and acute staffing shortages, as many as 100,000 nurses in Britain went on strike for higher wages and improved working standards on Thursday. Thursday’s walkout was a historic one, marking the biggest strike on record for the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the nurse’s union, as well as their first strike since the National Health Service (NHS) was established in 1948. 

“What a tragic day,” Pat Cullen, head of the RCN union, told the BBC. “This is a tragic day for nursing, it is a tragic day for patients, patients in hospitals like this, and it is a tragic day for people of this society and for our NHS.”

U.S. scales up training of Ukrainian troops. As yet another barrage of Russian missiles rained down on Ukraine, targeting energy infrastructure across the country, the United States announced it will ramp up its training of Ukrainian forces, both in terms of the number of soldiers involved and military tactics taught, U.S. officials said on Thursday. Beginning in January, Washington plans to train 500 Ukrainian troops per month while also prioritizing more sophisticated battlefield strategies.

“The idea here is to be able to give them this advanced level of collective training that enables them to conduct effective combined arms operations and maneuver on the battlefield,” said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder.


Keep an Eye On

El Salvador’s prolonged state of emergency. El Salvador has extended its state of emergency for the ninth time, allowing the government to crack down on gang violence and make sweeping arrests at the expense of certain civil liberties. Since the decree was imposed in March, more than 60,000 people with alleged gang ties have been jailed, fueling concerns of human rights violations.

Brazil investigates Bolsonaro supporters. Brazilian authorities have started issuing search warrants for people who barricaded highways after Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva defeated incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro in the country’s recent presidential election. To obstruct traffic, the Bolsonaro supporters built barricades from burnt tires and deployed homemade bombs, according to Brazil’s highway police. 


Thursday’s Most Read

The United States Couldn’t Stop Being Stupid if It Wanted To by Stephen M. Walt

Congress Wants to Boot Russia From U.N. Security Council by Jack Detsch and Amy Mackinnon

The Tragedy of Pro-Palestinian Activism at the World Cup by Steven A. Cook


Odds and Ends 

Polish authorities are struggling to identify a man who disguised himself as a Christmas tree and then cut open the tires of 21 cars and minibuses at a meat warehouse. Mateusz Watral, a representative for the warehouse’s owner, said some of the suspect’s branches fell off during the crime.

“In my opinion, this was more of a guerrilla [action] than a well-prepared operation,” he said. “Along the way, he lost his ‘camouflage.’ Branches were scattered everywhere.”

Christina Lu is a reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @christinafei

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