The Round of 16 has got off to a cracking start, much in tune with the previous stage of the tournament. In this article, I will review the two matches played yesterday.
Match 1: France vs Argentina
Argentina going into a game at this stage of any FIFA tournament as the underdogs is not something we’re accustomed to. Just one change for Argentina from the Nigeria game, with Pavon coming in for Higuain. France reverted to their starting line-up against Peru, having made wholesale changes in their last group game against Denmark. The French had setup to exploit the aging Argentina backline, making runs at them regularly. Griezman hit the bar in the 7th minute, with the goalkeeper rooted to the spot. Mbappe’s blistering pace was too much for Rojo to keep up and he brought down the attacker inside the penalty area. Griezman made no mistake with the penalty. The French kept coming, with Argentina looking rattled, unable to handle the pace and movement up front of their opponents. Inexplicably, the French started slowing down the game beyond the half hour mark, and this played into the hands of their opponents. Argentina started getting into the game more, keeping possession for more extended periods. They drew level on 41 minutes with a stunning 30 yard drive from Di Maria, who had been quiet so far. At half-time, it was Argentina who seemed to have the momentum. The Argentines began the second half in confident fashion and took the lead within minutes. Messi picked up a free-kick beyond the far post, turned and shot towards goal. The ball was deflected in by a toe from Mercado which left Lloris completely wrong-footed. The Argentina defender looked to be taking his foot out of the way of the shot, but he would claim the goal. France had no choice but to up the tempo once more. They were rewarded just before the hour mark with another superb strike. Hernandez crossed from the left-wing. The ball evaded everyone in the box, only to reach an advancing Pavard, whose first time shot across goal found the top corner. His first goal for France and what a time to produce it! France took advantage of some sloppy Argentine defending to take the lead 7 minutes later. Mbappe used a neat bit of skill to get away from his marker inside the box and slotted home past the ‘keeper. This match was turning into a classic and there was nearly half an hour still left. Mbappe doubled his side’s lead just 4 minutes later, running onto a Giroud through ball and finding the bottom corner with a first time shot. The teenager became the first such player to score a brace in a World Cup game since Pele did it 1958! Argentina were once again failing to cope with the pace up front for France, and for some time it looked like this could become an embarrassing score-line. Fracne once again took their foot off the gas and decided to coast to the final whistle. Argentina made some openings but the goal remained elusive in normal time. In the third minute of injury time, Ever Banega’s pin-point cross found Aguero at the end of it and the striker header in from close range. Argentina still had a couple of minutes to try to get level. However, that would not be the case as France held on to win this enthralling fixture.
Final Score: France 4 – 3 Argentina
Match 2: Uruguay vs Portugal
Ronaldo had an early shot on goal, but it was straight at Muslera. In the 7th minute, Cavani pinged a cross-field pass to find Suarez on the left-wing. The forward made some space and delivered a pin-point cross to the far post. Cavani had kept on running and got onto the end of the cross and headed (actually the ball hit face) in past Patricio. It was a stunning example of how well the two forward men link up for Uruguay. Suarez had a free-kick well saved by Paricio in the 22nd minute, after the wall failed to hold its shape and let the ball through. Portugal failed to muster any clear chances in the first half, and were reduced to mostly attempts from distance or harmless headers. They started the second half brightly, reaching the opposition penalty area on a couple of occasions. In the 54th minute, Pepe got onto the end of a short corner routine and powered his header past the helpless Muslera. Parity lasted for less than 10 minutes. After a swift counter-attack, Bentancur squared a ball across the 18 yard line to find Cavani who did not break stride to curl his effort around Patrico and into the far corner. It was another superb goal on a day of such goals. Uruguay looked good for their lead, and Cavani was on top form. Uruguay had a heat-in-the-mouth moment a few minutes later as Muslera dropped a cross inside the box. Bernanrdo Silva got the loose ball but could only shoot over the bar with the goal gaping. The Portuguese man looked to have kicked the ball out of the Uruguayan goalkeeper’s hands but the referee had not blown for a foul and the goal would’ve counted. Cavani unfortunately limped off a couple of minutes later, having put in a possible Man of the Match performance. Portugal huffed and puffed in the final 20 minutes but could not produce much in terms of clear-cut chances. Uruguay held on and the Portuguese were going home. People were hoping for a Ronaldo vs Messi encounter in the Quarter Final but neither made it past this round!
Final Score: Uruguay 2 – 1 Portugal