In all fairness, this was not a game you expected in the Round of 16 Stage. Well you did expect France in this fixture, but their opponent, considering the quality, should have been Croatia.
But Argentina’s stuttering Group Stage performance meant that they ended up finishing second and as a result, face France in the first knockout game. Not the most ideal situation if you’re a fan of La Albiceleste.
The group stages were a very different story for each side. Argentina drew one game, lost one and qualified dramatically with a late winner in their final game against Nigeria. France, on the other hand, sealed their qualification with two wins from the first two games. Their last group game was a first at the 2018 World Cup, as it was the first goalless draw of the tournament.
On paper, France have the clear advantage. They play more as a cohesive unit, have a solid defensive line spearheaded by Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti. They also have a wealth of attacking options at their disposal but the most impressive part is their defensive midfield. Having tireless engines like N’golo Kante and Blaise Matuidi sure helps.
Argentina, meanwhile, have had a sort of mutiny against coach Jorge Sampaoli. Anyone who saw the game against Nigeria can attest to that. Their defense seems to have too many cracks and the midfield is a bit fragmented, to say the least. The midfield troubles, however, did seem to be taped up with Ever Banega’s appearance in the game against Nigeria.
The selection dilemma for Argentina will be up front. Do they go with Gonzalo Higuain again or should Sergio Aguero start? And what of the supremely talented Paulo Dybala, who hasn’t seen a minute of action at the tournament? Maybe the Juventus man is the answer to Argentina’s shambolic display so far in the tournament. Yes, he is similar to Messi in many aspects but smart use of him in the offensive unit can prove to be deadly for the Argentines.
For France, this game is about nullifying Messi. If they can contain the Argentine great, they’ve won 80% of the battle. That, however, is easier said than done. Just ask the Nigerian Super Eagles. They’ll know what he can do.