FIFA 2018 knockout: European finesse to face S American flair

Rajat Kain

Photo - AP/PTI

Photo – AP/PTI

The second round or the knockout phase of FIFA World Cup begins on Saturday with two intense contest – France vs Argentina and Portugal vs Uruguay. The winners of these two matches will clash in the quarter finals next week.

France will take on Argentina in the first Round of 16 match with Argentina holding better head to head record. In the 11 matches they have played, the South Americans have won six, France two and three games have ended in a draw.

The Argentina, however, will be aware of its form which was just enough to sail them through the ‘Group of Death’. France on the other hand looks a balanced side but may have its forward line tested before the well-built Argentinians.

France will also be looking to limit Lionel Messi, the star possibly playing his last world cup, who showed the glimpse of his best in a clinical strike against Nigeria in a must win game.

“Messi is Messi, you just have to look at his statistics, he scored 65 goals in 127 games, that says it all. Now ideally the solution would be to neutralise him but we all know that with very little he can make a difference so we must take that into account…,” Didier Deschamps, the France Coach said.

France will also be worried about the absence of their full back Benjamin Mendy, who has been ruled out due to a muscle injury.

Also, striker Antoine Griezmann is under pressure to lift after being off the pace in the dull Denmark draw. He has only got scored with a penalty in the opening 2-1 win over Australia.

But Argentina is well aware of characteristic French play of quick ball recovery and pace, especially driven by Antoine Griezemann and Olivier Giroud that will make them a dangerous opponent if Sampaoli’s boys are not able to dominate possession.

“Griezmann and Giroud play very well together and that makes it a very dangerous team so I think for me that’s where the game is going to be played. Tomorrow I dream of seeing an Argentina that plays full of passion but specially with a lot of football…,” Jorge Sampaoli, the Argentina coach said.

Photo - AP/PTI

Photo – AP/PTI

In the second match, played later in the evening, Uruguay will take on Portugal.

The Group A toppers have put their three group wins behind them and are fully focused on Portugal and World’s Number 1 player in their line-up, Cristiano Ronaldo.

Having swept aside hosts Russia to top their group, Luis Suarez and his Uruguay team mates are taking no chances as they prepare for Portugal, the reigning European champions led by his La Liga rival Cristiano Ronaldo.

National team coach Oscar Tabarez is also wary of the European champions – and in particular of their talismanic striker.

“He (Cristiano Ronaldo) has great potential. And when it comes to planning for the match, and especially the opposing team and considering the importance that each player has individually, it’s collective pressure,” Tabarez said.

This will be third encounter between the two sides who last faced each other in 1972 which ended in a 1-1 draw. Portugal had won the other game against South Americans.

(With inputs from Agencies)