France vs. Argentina
Saturday’s first match will feature Group C winner France against Group D runner-up Argentina.
Oh, boy are we in for a treat with this match! Much like Spain, France produced a very underwhelming performance during the group stage. Arguably the team with the most offensive talent, France managed to produce a total of 3 goals during its first three matches. One was an own goal, one was a lucky bounce to Kylian Mbappe and the third was Antoine Griezmann.
The 2016 Euro runner-up has armed itself with a boatload of offensive talent and a slightly average defense (go ahead, ask an average fan to name the two France fullbacks). Additionally, France did not exactly inspire high levels of confidence in its match against Denmark. Les Bleus (along with the Danish) basically did not attempt to score. What should worry the French contingent is that they are now facing a score-first, defend the last team in Argentina. Knowing that it may need to match its entire goal total for the group in order to win could be a tall task for this French side, especially after its last result. However, what should scare Lionel Messi and co. is that France has not produced its best offensive match to date.
In 2014, France put five on the board in the group stage against Switzerland before exiting in the quarters, and this team should be capable of a similar performance. Perhaps this match is what equips France with the knockout punch it needs to sustain a run, but it is crucial for France to start fast and score as many goals as humanly possible.
Argentina picked up a spot in the knockouts after Marcos Rojo saved them in the dying minutes against Nigeria. Argentina finally seemed to find its form against Iceland, realizing that Gonzalo Higuaín is preferable to Sergio Aguero. With that said, Argentina’s defense is still subject to its momentary lapses (I’m looking at you Nicolas Otamendi), and at the end of the day this is still Lionel Messi’s team. Bottom-line, this team’s result will be driven solely by Messi.
A great performance puts them through whereas a lackluster one sends them packing. As referenced earlier, Argentina should be concerned France has not exploded offensively yet, but they should also take solace knowing that France may not have that killer instinct just yet. Finally, for as weak as Argentina’s midfield may be, it has shown that it can possess the ball for extended periods of time whereas France has not been equally as successful. If Argentina can dominate possession and limit chances for the French, it’s hard to expect a disappointing result.
Matchup to Watch – N’Golo Kanté vs. Lionel Messi
Kanté is arguably one of the best holding midfielders in the entire tournament and Messi is a relentless attacker (as we well know). Kanté is going to bear a lot of responsibility to limit Messi’s chances and the Argentinian counter-attack in general. Presumably, Kanté’s holding midfield partner will be Paul Pogba, who loves the get forward.
Much like we saw in the Germany-Sweden match with Toni Kroos and Sebastian Rudy, Pogba will be just a crucial to this matchup and must responsibly choose when to attack and defend. If Pogba roams too far forward, it may expose Kanté and the French defense to Messi’s expertise, and, eventually, lead to the exit of Les Bleus.
Prediction – France 4, Argentina 3
Will this be the final score? Probably not, but a guy can dream. Either way, expect to see a breakout offensive performance from France and a relatively high-scoring match. Griezmann and Pogba lead the charge for France as Messi does his best to keep things close, but in the end, a late goal from France sets up a quarterfinal matchup with Uruguay. Afterward, Twitter explodes in anger as it is not granted a Messi-Ronaldo quarterfinal matchup it so desperately wanted.