France - Argentina - 5 Key Battles to watch out Featured
30 Jun

France - Argentina - 5 Key Battles to watch out

The Blues of France will be locking horns with Argentina in the Round 16 of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
 
We bring you five key battles that will happen in this encounter
 
Olivier Giroud vs Nicolas Otamendi
 
The powerful forward has been a vital part of France’s squad. Didier Deschamps clearly favors him as he brings physicality to the side, bringing others like Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe into the attack. With a sweet touch and aerial ability to boot, France have played better with him starting than riding the bench.
 
 
 
Standing in his way is Otamendi, who, while having endured a great season for Manchester City, is enduring a rough time in Russia. He wasn’t spectacular against Iceland, and was dreadful in the implosion against Croatia. The 30-year-old fared better against Nigeria in spurts, but was often left in the dust by Nigeria’s Ahmed Musa.
 
 
 
Expect this duel to be settled in the air, where corner kicks will surely play a big part in this game, these two will grapple for position in the box. Otamendi will be wise to call Marcos Rojo for some help should Giroud get the better of him. If Giroud has his way, it’ll be a long night for Otamendi and that Argentina defense.
 
 
 
N’Golo Kante vs. Ever Banega
 
 
 
Kante has been France’s best player by a country mile. He knows his role and is able to carry out his duties at maximum proficiency, and in a side full of attacking stars, Kante has stood taller than all with his performances. With Deschamps favoring the 4-2-3-1, Kante will most likely be alongside Paul Pogba for this game as the pair have worked well together.
 
 
The man Kante has to stop is Banega, who’s brought in some much-needed creativity and link-up play to Argentina. He’s key to unlocking Messi, look at the assist he gave for Messi’s goal, one of the best of the tournament. Banega has had to be patient to start a game, inexplicably having to watch from the sidelines against Croatia. But against Nigeria, he showed Sampaoli and others just why he’s so deserving of being in the starting XI.
 
 
 
Dictating play from deep, it’s in the middle of the pitch where this game will likely be decided. Kante will be aware of Banega’s movements, as the latter will look to carry the ball forward to initiate attacks should Sampaoli continue with the 4-4-2. The two are similar in that they make their respective teams tick. Of all the matchups in this game, this is the most crucial.
 
 
 
Antoine Griezmann vs. Javier Mascherano
 
 
 
Antoine Griezmann has not had the best time at this World Cup. After scoring in the Group C opener against Australia, he was largely ineffective against both Peru and Denmark. His movement off the ball and timing of runs have been poor, making him a non-factor on the pitch. One can make the argument Deschamps inserted Giroud into the starting lineup to get more out of the 27-year-old, but so far it’s not working.
 
 
 
Griezmann’s form is a major cause for concern as France are in the knockout stages, but Javier Mascherano won’t mind that one bit. At 34 years old, the former Barcelona and Liverpool man is still indispensable to his national team. Yet, he’s been reckless, slow and more recently, bloodied. Mascherano gave up the penalty against Nigeria, and is clearly a shell of himself, but that doesn’t mean he won’t go out and give it his all.
 
 
 
Like an old prizefighter, Mascherano is going down swinging in a bid to win the World Cup. Stopping Griezmann is just one more battle he’ll have to win. If he loses, it’ll likely be curtains for his long and storied international career.
 
 
 
Lionel Messi vs. Lucas Hernandez
 
 
 
Lionel Messi has had and down-and-up World Cup. From missing the potential game-winning penalty against Iceland to looking miserable against Croatia, he knew the pressure he carried every time he stepped on the pitch, which is what made his goal against Nigeria so wonderful. The 100th of the competition, the touch and finish with his weaker right foot showcased his brilliance.
 
 
 
When his country needed him most, Messi delivered. He’ll have to do what he’s never done before in a World Cup, and that’s score in the knockout stages and ultimately deliver glory. Hernandez is an old foe from the constant battles in La Liga between Atletico Madrid and Barcelona.
 
 
 
The 22-year-old has played decently and his holding his own at left-back. While he offers very little going forward with his sub-par crossing and lack of overlapping, he makes up for it with his tough tackling and rigid style of play. Messi will represent his biggest challenge, and whether it’s in a 4-4-2 as the second striker or out wide in a 4-3-3, Hernandez will have to keep his eyes on him at all times.
 
 
 
The Frenchman can be exposed due to a lack of pace, and while Messi isn’t as quick as he once was he can certainly outpace Hernandez in a footrace. With so much at stake, Messi will undoubtedly put his influence and stamp on the game
 
 
 
Didier Deschamps vs. Jorge Sampaoli
 
 
 
Two of the most scrutinized managers (aside from Joachim Low) in this tournament face one another with the chance to advance to the quarterfinals. Both have been far from impressive in both their tactics and team selections, but a win will spare either man’s blushes.
 
 
 
Deschamps came into this tournament with the most stacked squad, full of attacking flair, midfield strength and defensive powerhouses. There is strong depth on all three levels, yet Deschamps has resorted to making his side into a defensive unit doing just enough to get by. The attacking prowess has yet to be unleashed, while the defenders have been far from convincing. Griezmann hasn’t upped his game, neither has Ousmane Dembele. Nabil Fekir has shown very little promise while Florian Thauvin hasn’t made an appearance yet despite having a wonderful season at Marseille.
 
 
 
This team is lacking clear direction under him, who’s set to take charge of his 80th game as France manager, a new record overtaking Raymond Domenech. At this rate, it seems as though Deschamps will continue to experiment with his starting XI, which is far from ideal at this point in the tournament.
 
 
 
Luckily for Deschamps, Sampaoli is also in a difficult spot coming into this game. The man looks lost out there, clearly not knowing what formation to use to get the best out of his players. His tactics and team selection against Croatia gave witness to one of the worst team performances in recent World Cup history.
 
 
 
Leaving out Mauro Icardi looks more blasphemous by the game, same goes for not starting Paulo Dybala. Through good fortune Argentina have made it this far, or else they would’ve been taking the plane home in shame with Sampaoli taking the blame and possibly getting sacked. And it still might be the case for him and Deschamps as well, both face heavy pressure to win the World Cup. One has to help Messi deliver glory, while the other has to win with the most talented squad in the tournament. This game will see the winning manager survive another week, and the loser likely lose his job.
 
 
 
Credit: @SirHarveyCruz
 
 
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