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Messi and Ronaldo Out as France and Uruguay Progress

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July 1, 2018
Mbappe was the star of the show as France beat Argentina 4-3.

A day that served up 10 goals ended with the world’s two best footballers, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, going home. On the face of it, that might be sound like a blow to the prestige of the tournament but, truth be told, this Argentina team has no business going any further in the competition. Bedevilled by in-fighting and hampered by a lack of quality, especially in defence, the South American side should consider themselves fortunate to get as far as they did. We’ll miss Messi, sure but there’s only so much that one man can do.

The only other man in the same stratosphere was also on the receiving end of an early ticket home. Ronaldo didn’t have one of his finest days and the inadequacies of his teammates to pick up the slack in his wake was painfully exposed against an Uruguay team that would not back down. Edinson Cavani put in the performance of a lifetime and, for his troubles, picked up an injury that may put the rest of his World Cup in jeopardy. C’est la vie. The first confirmed quarter-final of the 2018 World cup will take place on Friday and will see Uruguay take on France and their man on fire, Kylian Mbappe. If people didn’t know him before today, they do now.

France 4 – 3 Argentina

After 10 minutes, the moment came and calamity struck with Marcos Rojo the instrument of its delivery. Kylian Mbappe broke at pace from outside his own penalty area and burned Javier Mascherano and Ever Banega along the way. Rojo saw him coming and still couldn’t figure out how to defend against such raw pace so instead, he pushed him over in the box and gave away the penalty. Regular readers will know what this column thinks of Rojo and his partner in mediocrity, Nicolas Otamendi, so we weren’t at all surprised by the turn of events. Antoine Griezmann was tasked with dispatching the spot kick and did so with great ease. With the best part of the game left to play, Argentina already looked done.

On 18 minutes, the 19-year-old Mbappe did them again for pace, this time from a free-kick which Paul Pogba sent from deep and Mbappe was brought down again by an increasingly panicked Argentina defence. The ball was a foot outside the box but fortunately for Argentina, Pogba blasted over. It was clear, even at this stage, that just about any attack at pace would cause tremendous trouble for the South American side and it was just as obvious that Argentina were not going to cause any trouble for France. They were static and slow, utterly devoid of creativity and thrust. Messi was nominally the centre forward but, as is his style, hung around on the right wing waiting for the ball, looking to make things happen. Unable, as of yet, to be in two places at once, that left a whole heap of space empty up front.

France looked extremely comfortable but eventually began to fall back. Maybe they found it all to be a little easy but the longer the game went on, the more they afforded Argentina a foothold in the game. Then, with their first proper strike of the game, they scored. The ball was played to Angel Di Maria about 30 yards from France’s goal and with no France player closing him down, he let loose with that mercurial left peg of his and smashed it beyond Hugo Lloris. France, in control for so much of the game, paid the price for their complacency.

And that was it going in at half time. Argentina were in the ascendency and France were shocked. Did they have it in them to shake themselves down, reassess, bite down and go for it? They had to prove to themselves and the world that they were as good as they thought they were. Questions about their mental attitude needed to be answered because if they couldn’t do so they would be beaten by Argentina, the inferior team.

Two minutes into the second half and the tables had turned yet again. Following a great delivery from a free-kick into France’s box, the ball was cleared to Messi who swivelled and shot. Lloris steadied to collect the ball but Gabriel Mercado stuck out a leg and redirected it past the flat-footed ‘keeper. Argentina were delirious, France were looking around for someone to blame. We were about to see what this French team were all about.

Ten minutes into the half and we had something approaching an answer. Following a superb ball down the inside left channel, a cross was whipped across Argentina’s penalty area. They failed to clear it properly and it made its way to the foot of Benjamin Pavard who kicked across the ball to send it spinning into the far side of the net. It was an incredible strike, from the same school as Nacho’s wonder goal against Portugal at the beginning of the tournament. We had an even clearer demonstration of their resolve when, just eight minutes later, they scored again. Another ball from the Lucas Hernandez made its way from the left into Argentina’s penalty area and, yet again, they failed to deal with it. Mbappe pounced on the loose ball, got past a confused cluster of defenders and poked the ball past the ‘keeper, who really should have done better.

The taste of glory was seemingly intoxicating for Mbappe as, mere minutes later, he scored again. France passed their way from back to front without encountering any resistance and the young forward was played through by a wonderfully weighted pass from Olivier Giroud which tore the porous Argentina defence in two to finish one more time. With little over 20 minutes left, the score stood at 4-2 – Argentina were in serious trouble. The tempo fell off from both sides; France because they were secure in the knowledge that they just needed to manage the situation but for Argentina the mental toll as much as the physical one was the issue.

With a mere 45 seconds to go, Messi delivered a wonderful ball into the penalty area and Sergio Aguero headed it past Lloris. All of a sudden, there was a chance for Argentina to grab a draw. From the kick-off, they lost the ball and Pogba was scythed down by a poor tackle from Mercado before Otamendi, for the second time in the tournament, blasted the ball off the back of the fallen player. When his team most needed composure and purpose, he again let them down. They did manage to move the ball up the pitch but they couldn’t get the goal they so desperately wanted.

And that was it for Argentina. There were to be no more dreams this summer, only bitter and prolonged recriminations about who was to blame for the shambles that was their tournament. The shortest answer is possibly the best and that is that there is a woeful dearth of talent in Argentina at the moment. The longer answers will fill countless newspapers for months and years to come. France, for their part, stood up to the challenge and come away from this game with a huge dose of self-belief which will surely stand them in good stead as the World Cup progresses.

France are getting better and better as the World Cup goes on and you can bet on them to win the tournament with these top bookmakers:

Uruguay 2-1 Portugal

Cavani was the two-goal hero for Uruguay as they knocked out Portugal
during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Round of 16 match between Uruguay and Portugal at Fisht Stadium on June 30, 2018 in Sochi, Russia.

No-one expected this match to be a thing of beauty, a game that would be fondly recalled for years to come. Both teams have something of a reputation for being physical and cynical, not afraid to give it and always willing to fake it. It was to be the sort of tie that would make football’s detractors howl in self-righteous rage at the antics and play-acting taking place before their outraged eyes – or was it?

Those naysayers were presented with a thing of extraordinary beauty after just seven minutes. Nothing too dangerous appeared to be on the cards when the two strikers turned into two wingers as Edinson Cavani swept a beautiful cross-field pass from right to left for Luis Suarez who took it under control, checked and swung it in deep to the back post. Cavani had continued his run and met it beautifully with his head, powering it past the rather dazed Rui Patricio. It was an incredible piece of interplay from two forwards who generally do their best work within the box.

The work rate of Uruguay’s players was incredibly impressive throughout the first half. Set up with a diamond in midfield, rather than the flat 4-4-2 of their opening two games, allowing for excellent link-up play from back to front. It also forced them to play quite narrow but Portugal spent a lot of their time attacking them down the centre. When they did get it out wide, Uruguay were quick to get to across to them to close out the space and looked as if they would be content to do so all night.

One aspect that really stood out was the willingness of Cavani to get back and defend at every opportunity. For a striker with over 100 caps to his name to put himself about in such a metronomic manner neatly demonstrated the lengths Uruguay were willing to go to for the win. They outplayed and outran Portugal, holding onto their lead until the whistle blew for half time. Without a significant change to shape or intent, Portugal were going out.

The second half wasn’t 10 minutes old when, from a corner following some good Portugal attacking play, the European side levelled it. It looked for all the world as if Ronaldo would be the man to head it home but it flew over him and onto the bonce of Pepe behind; the much-maligned defender finished with something close to aplomb. Suddenly it was a different game, the tempo increasing in defiance of the heat on the pitch.

Minutes later, following a long ball up the field, Bentancur played it into the path of Cavani to his left and the forward dispatched it beautifully, first time, with a level of precision which a diamond cutter would envy. It hadn’t taken long for the tables to turn and Portugal once again had it all to do. The night then took an unfortunate turn when the game’s outstanding performer, Cavani, went off with what looked like a calf injury. It was a sad end to what had been a wonderful night’s work by the man.

With the clock ticking down, Portugal launched aerial raid after aerial raid into Uruguay’s box but General Godin and his soldiers repelled them time and again. With their World Cup adventure hanging by a thread, Pepe was sent forward for the final assault – if Portugal could keep getting the ball in, who was to say that he couldn’t repeat his earlier heroics? The full time whistle is who. Despite their best efforts, the Uruguay defence was not for turning and to the victor went the spoils of the quarter-final tie against France.

The fat lady had sung and it was Ronaldo and Portugal who were going home. For all their possession in the second half of the game, they didn’t have the guile or wit to open up what is the best defence in the competition. The game didn’t live up to its pre-billing as ‘one for the purists’; instead, we were served a game that was filled with tenacity and tension, littered with excitement throughout. There’s nothing quite like being proven wrong.

  • Argentina
  • France
  • Portugal
  • Round of 16
  • Uruguay
  • world cup

    About the author

    Eric Roberts
    Eric Roberts

    Sports Journalist

    Eric has been a sports journalist for over 20 years and has travelled the world covering top sporting events for a number of publications. He also has a passion for betting and uses his in-depth knowledge of the sports world to pinpoint outstanding odds and value betting opportunities.