FIFA World Cup 2018: 5 reasons why France won against Argentina

France ended Argentina’s dream of a fairytale World Cup campaign with a flawless, fluent performance to down the La Albiceleste in the pre-quarters. Didier Deschamps’ lads carried their tasks to perfection, and amid a quick comeback by Argentina, France held on to their nerves to finish off the game with a brilliant victory.

A late surge from Sergio Aguero, couple of magical moments from Lionel Messi and a wonder strike from Angel di Maria proved to be futile in front of the flamboyance and swagger of the French midfield. Argentina could only look in despair in the final half hour, as France ensured that they kept both the momentum and the odds in their favor after gaining a good enough lead. Here, I decipher five reasons why France edged out Argentina in this clash:

#1 Neutralizing Lionel Messi

This is undoubtedly the primary job for any team lining up to face a team with Lionel Messi in it. You just cannot afford to give Messi any sort of space in any part of the field. However, France probably had the best player in world football to get this ground covered. N’golo Kante, with all his energy, enthusiasm and tactical discipline ensured that Lionel Messi remained in his shadow for majority of the game.

 Kante followed the FCB man all over the pitch, closely marking him and put up a valiant fight against one of the best players in the world. He stayed close to Messi, pressed him with an extra man and then recovered the ball to drive France ahead by passing it to the appropriate man.

As a result, Messi had little impact in the game, with his best bit of play coming when Kante was far from him. His first assist had him unmarked at the edge of the box, whilst Nabil Fekir’s sloppy possession meant that France gifted the ball to Lionel in the dying embers to peg a goal back. Otherwise, due to Kante and a resolute backline, France managed to contain Messi in the biggest game of the tournament so far.


#2 Clinical in front of the goal

Argentina had won their previous game against Nigeria because of their domination in the midfield. In their final group game of the tournament, Argentina pressed out the opponent, recovered, and recycled the ball well enough to put the game in the front gear. Hence, with Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe in front of the goal, it was a given that Argentina would play more from the midfield rather than trying to build from the back.

 Hence, they maintained a high defensive line, ensuring that the midfielders had lesser space to cover and Messi remained closer to the goal. This meant that France had to take their chances clinically, as Argentina’s tendency to revert to extreme brute physicality would mean that there would be lesser swiftness in the proceedings.

France took nine shots, but four of them were on target. Eventually, all four of them resulted into goals too, and this meant that Deschamps’s talented forward line were well-prepared for the situation. They knew that they wouldn’t get many open chances, so Mbappe, Pavon and Griezmann made the best out of the limited opportunities to thump four goals past the Argentine team.


#3 Domination in the midfield

For long, Deschamps had been wondering about his best midfield combination, but had it covered after the game against Australia. He realized that it was important for Paul Pogba to be released out of his shackles completely in order for France to maintain a proper linkage between defence and attack. With N’golo Kante having to man-mark Messi, Pogba decided to take up a more conservative role so that the other Argentine players would not have a free run in the midfield. Pogba put up two tackles, two interceptions and cleared the ball out thrice in the whole game.

He did not lunge into reckless challenges, but the most fascinating part of his game was when he glided past the opposition players as if they didn’t exist and made his way to the other half in search of players. Mbappe’s first goal came because of Pogba’s sumptuous ball to Lucas Hernandez, who in turn assisted for the teenager’s goal.

Paul was crucial in driving the team ahead, as exploited the spaces in the midfield and the between the lines and brought up numbers ahead with him. He picked out supreme passes, one of them being a beautiful outside of the boot one to Giroud at the edge of the box. Blaise Matuidi wasn’t much effective going forward, but his tenacity and energy while pressing on the left-wing lowered Pogba’s defensive duties and allowed the Manchester United man to flourish completely.


#4 Strong mentality to bounce back

France have carried the second-youngest squad in this World Cup behind Nigeria. Moreover, as we know, it is common for young lads to bottle it up in the big stage but that didn’t happen yesterday. Players like Mbappe, Pogba and Kante showed incredible mental strength to cope up with the quality of the opposition, and also by bouncing back from losing positions to grab a hold over the proceedings.

Griezmann’s early penalty was neutralized by Angel di Maria’s long-range effort and that meant that the momentum was highly in Argentina’s favor at halftime. However, France showed good patience, and demonstrated their ability by constantly finding back an opening in the game somehow. They maintained and shielded the possession of the ball, but struck on the counter-attack whenever they had a chance to do so.

A fair bit of tactical discipline ably coupled France’s fearless too, and they took the correct decision at the appropriate time to control the tempo and influence the proceedings of the game. They showed good composure, didn’t panic much, used their temperament to get out of the difficult situations and eventually clawed back into the game.


#5 Kylian Mbappe: Need I say more?

Mbappe was brilliant in this game, if you haven’t heard it before. The amount of composure and maturity that Kylian displayed in this game was unparalleled. His decision making in the final third, those terrifying runs at the opposition and the knack of picking out good passes inside the box were all on show as Mbappe finally announced his arrival in the international stage.

Firstly, he won a penalty courtesy of Paul Pogba’s delivery from a deeper area. Mbappe ran at the defence, accelerated so well and then attracted a foul by Marcos Rojo. Later, he again earned a foul, this time a free kick, from a similar situation too. However, it was in second half that he really joined the game by scoring two goals in quick intervals to give France the lead. He firstly pounced upon a loose ball to put it to the net from the left flank, and then dribbled past a couple of challenges to score a trademark right-winger goal by cutting in and shifting to the centre.

His finishes were exemplary and defied his age too, as Mbappe almost single-handedly carried France to the quarterfinals with a brace that would be remembered in the years to come.

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