On Sunday, France will face off against Argentina in the finals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The game will pit two Barcelona stars, Ousmane Dembele and Jules Kounde, against a club legend in Lionel Messi.
The 35-year-old has been instrumental in Argentina’s run to the finals in Qatar while both Dembele and Kounde have been regular fixtures in the France side.
While Kounde never got a chance to share the dressing room with Messi at Camp Nou, Dembele spent four years playing alongside the seven-time Ballon d’Or at Barcelona and forged a strong bond.
Ahead of the World Cup final, the 25-year-old winger spoke to the press, during which he discussed at length the threat Messi poses as well as the time he spent with the Argentina captain during their time together at Barcelona.
“I spent four great years at Barcelona with him. He is an exceptional player. One of the players who made me love Barça with Iniesta. I spent four great years with him. In the dressing room he’s a simple person, he helps the youngsters,” Dembele said (h/t RMC Sport).
He has given me a lot. It’s difficult to counter him and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that he touches the ball as little as possible.”
Dembele also recollected the one piece of treasured advice that he received from Messi at Barcelona, which helped his game.
“When I arrived at Barcelona I was trying to dribble like him on the field. He always told me when you face three-four defenders, you don’t dribble, there are times when you pass and times you dribble, pass when you can and dribble when you can,” he reminisced.
The French international also talked about the overwhelming support that Argentina are receiving as fans wish to see Messi lift the World Cup.
We are the French team in the World Cup final. We are fighting for our team, our country. All the players and the French people want to win the World Cup and bring a third star. It would be good for his career if Messi won the World Cup but we also want to win the World Cup,” he said.
“Every football player wants to win the World Cup. He has had a great career and is missing this trophy but we represent our country. We want to win the World Cup. I hope France will win this World Cup.”
During the press conference, Dembele also touched upon his relationship with Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez, who has played an important role in his resurgence at the club and international level.
“I feel very good since the beginning of the World Cup. I am happy. I am focused. I’m also in contact with Xavi, he has encouraged me. He’s been wonderful for me and for Jules too,” Dembele said.
Speaking of another of his former Barcelona teammate Antoine Griezmann, who has taken up a role in the midfield for France at the World Cup, Dembele said:
“We can add Jules Koundé on the right. We talk to each other a lot. We communicate a lot. The position suits Antoine very well, he already told me in Barcelona that playing as a No. 6 or No. 8 suits him. We find each other well because we communicate well.”