The knockout stages of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia begin on Saturday, with France and Argentina set to meet in Kazan for the first Round of 16 encounter. These two heavyweights of international football are always among the favourites to lift the Trophy. They boast some of the game’s biggest superstars, from Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann to Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria. It is a duel to warm the hearts of every devotee of the beautiful game.
L’Equipe Tricolore navigated their way out of the group stages with two wins and a draw. While Didier Deschamps’ star-studded squad have not yet faced a truly challenging test, they have certainly not dazzled either. The 1998 world champions will have to step things up at least one more gear. Will conserving energy and resting some of their biggest names in the last group match against Denmark work to France’s advantage? The Europeans seem to have the measure of South American teams, having gone eight FIFA World Cup matches unbeaten against these sides. But the last nation to defeat Les Bleus in the competition in 1978 was Argentina.
Having finished as runners-up at Brazil 2014, La Albiceleste narrowly avoided suffering the same fate as reigning champions Germany. The tournament now begins in earnest for the two-time World Cup winners. A tough start to the competition could be exactly the motivation the South Americans need to raise their game against better teams and harness their immense attacking potential, which centres around Lionel Messi. Argentina have emerged victorious from both of the pair’s two previous World Cup meetings, ultimately reaching the Final on both occasions.
This will be the first true test for France, who have yet to hit their stride at this World Cup. While Les Bleus seem relaxed here in Istra and insist that they are preparing for “a normal match”, there is no doubt that the tension is rising. One Argentinian is the subject of every discussion and question from journalists – can you guess who?
Argentina found answers when it mattered to edge their way into the knockout stage. Now France seems to be the perfect rival to test whether La Albiceleste is back for good or not. Jorge Sampaoli might start the same 11 for the first time since he took the reins, which would indicate how much he liked the performance against Nigeria. The Argentinians will need to control the pace of the game against a young, athletic and very talented French team.
Did you know?
757 – France have not conceded a goal in their last seven World Cup matches (757 minutes) against South American opposition. The last man from this continent to score against Les Bleus was Brazil’s Careca back in 1986.
12 – France and Argentina will be facing each other for the 12th time. The South Americans hold the upper hand with six wins to two (D3), keeping a clean sheet in eight of their previous 11 encounters with the French.
11 – Penalty shootouts excluded, France has lost only one of its last 11 games in the knockout stages of the World Cup (W8 D2); that came against eventual winners Germany in July 2014 (0-1).
666 – Argentina forward Lionel Messi has never scored in the knockout stages of the World Cup: 666 minutes, 0 goals. He is the last Argentinian player to score against France, back in February 2009 in a friendly (2-0).
France: Hugo Lloris; Benjamin Pavard, Raphael Varane, Samuel Umtiti, Lucas Hernandez; Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante; Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele; Olivier Giroud
Argentina: Franco Armani; Gabriel Mercado, Nicolas Otamendi, Marcos Rojo, Nicolas Tagliafico; Ever Banega, Javier Mascherano, Enzo Perez, Angel Di Maria; Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain
WHERE TO WATCH:
Catch live action on Sony LIV (https://www.sonyliv.com/ ) at 7.30 p.m. This battle is sure to a thriller.