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As we enter the round of 16, kicking us off are two giants of the stage; France and Argentina. This fixture should be a cracker, I’m hoping for plenty of goals and attacking threat from both sides.
France’s run up to this stage has been plain sailing really, topping their group having amassed seven points. Their wins weren’t exactly easy, with scrappy goals and very meagre winning scorelines. With only three goals to their and their top scorers being Mbappé and Griezmann on only one goal, there hasn’t been the standard of play and amount of goals we’d liked to have seen, but it’s seen them though. Now it’s time for them to step up and show the world what they can do, on the biggest stage in football, against a powerhouse of the game.
For Argentina, to say it has been a turbulent ride wouldn’t do it justice. A real rollercoaster of emotions for the South American nation. Messi and 6 others were reportedly set to retire soon after this tournament, so it may well have been that this would have been the last World Cup for this cohort of players. It didn’t get off to the best of starts, with a 1-1 draw against Iceland and a missed penalty leaving La Albiceleste in a precarious position. Then cue Croatia, to thump them 3-0 in a totally dominant performance. They had to win at all costs against Nigeria in the final game, boy did they leave it late, sealing the deal in the 86th minute. Having scraped through in second in Group D, it’s time to finally see what Messi and his boys are about, to see them perform like the world class players we expect them to be.
Goalkeeper: Hugo Lloris.
World class goalkeeper, very necessary to the team.
Defenders: Lucas Hernandez (LB), Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane (CBs), Benjamin Pavard (RB).
Best back four that they have so far, in my opinion. Hernandez is threatening going forward and links up so well with the left and central attackers. Young Pavard has been composed and utterly consistent when he’s played, so he’ll thrive under more game time. Umtiti and Varane just your standard La Liga defenders really.
Midfielders: Blaise Matuidi and N’Golo Kanté (CMs), Paul Pogba (CAM).
Matuidi and Kanté: proven and tested central mids. Genuine box to box players who defend with they lives and never shirk challenges. This’ll allow the mercurial Paul Pogba to use his creativity and skill to string passes all over the place, not to mention his defending capability too.
Forwards: Kylian Mbappe (LF), Olivier Giroud (ST), Antoine Griezmann (RF).
Mbappé and Griezmann have been the two standout players, and Giroud a vital anchor up top. Making it really easy for France to attack the opposition.
Goalkeeper: Franco Armani. I’m sorry to say that Willy Caballero won’t get a sniff hereinafter, won’t get a chance to redeem himself. Armani was solid last game will look to follow on with a similar performance.
Defenders: Nicolas Tagliafico (LB), Marcos Rojo and Nicolas Otamendi (CBs), Gabriel Mercado (RB).
Mercado has been very potent in at right back in the last game and as a makeshift centre half against Croatia. Tagliafico has proved his worth, and I wouldn’t go for any centre halves other than the Premier League duo, especially after last game’s performance.
Midfielders: Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia (CDMs), Angel Di Maria (LW), Lionel Messi (CAM/CF), Paolo Dybala (RW).
Mascherano, though he’s beyond his best, is still a presence and leader in the team; his resilience is evident in his playing style. Biglia is the best centre mid they have on paper so I’m going for him, even though Banega played really well against the Super Eagles. Come on Di Maria, I want to see something, just something. Any spark of genius or offensive play, like days gone by at PSG. Messi is a given in the team, the magician could conjure up some pure class to steal the show. And I’ve had enough of Dybala not starting, it’s imperative he starts.
Forwards: Sergio Agüero (ST).
A rocket of a goal in the first game, an agile and deadly player, can the Premier League hero do it this time round? We sure know he is capable of doing so.
SCORE PREDICTION: France 1-2 Argentina. With both teams struggling to fire on all cylinders and knowing the game management style that France play with, it’ll be a close and restricted scoreline. Overall, it should take shape into a very fitting opening to the round of 16, and I’m backing Sampaoli’s men to edge it.