- Soccer. Should Messi turn on the style, France will be in trouble. Should he fail, Argentina will be at sixes and sevens. Argentina were losing finalists at the 2014 edition to Germany but as the saying goes, ‘a year is a long time.’ Make that four!
Let’s face it, Argentina are very lucky to still be at the World Cup.
They qualified to the second round through the ‘back-door’ after profiting from inconsistent officiating by VAR referees.
But the Nigeria victory is now history and coach Jorge Sampaoli’s side are thinking forward.
Which is today when they take on France in the first match of the knockout stage.
Lionel Messi has not quite come into his element at the World Cup and his class will have to come to the fore against a strong French team.
To stop Argentina, you have to find a solution for five-time Fifa World Player of the year.
Croatia and Iceland did but the Super Eagles of Nigeria did not.
France will beware. Messi has been mediocre by his lofty standards but as his goal showed against Nigeria, he will capitalize on the smallest mistake to breach the net.
Every team at the World Cup would probably want to have a Messi in their ranks, Portugal included, but the challenge sometimes of having a superstar is being over-reliant on him.
France, unlike Argentina, can get goals from many more sources on the field and compared with their South Americans opponents today, their squad has stability and balance – two words that cant to be said about Sampaoli’s squad.
Should Messi turn on the style, France will be in trouble.
Should he fail, Argentina will be at sixes and sevens.
Argentina were losing finalists at the 2014 World Cup to Germany but as the saying goes, ‘a year is a long time.’ Make that four years.
German are now former world champions while Italy and Netherlands are watching the tournament from television.
Messi, after Argentina’s less than convincing start, ought to cringe at the thought of boarding the plane back home having ceded ground to Cristiano Ronaldo in their unending battle for number one player in the world at the competition in Russia.
French coach Didier Deschamps will meanwhile aim to follow in the footsteps of Franz Beckenbauer by taking a step forward in his quest to lift the World Cup as a player and coach.
Les Blues, whose second string XI was disappointing in the scoreless tie with Denmark on Tuesday, have a livewire in Antoine Greizmann and the imposing Paul Pogba to call upon for the task.
It has been a World Cup that has not disappointed and if previous games are anything to go by, France-Argentina could be a classic.
France must stop Messi but for Argentina to triumph, they must shut out a deadly French attack that includes sensation Kylian Mbappe.
*The writer is this paper’s Sports Editor