Kylian Mbappe ran into the Argentina box and was brought down by Marcos Rojo in the early stages of France’s round of 16 clash in Kazan. PENALTY FRANCE! Minutes later, Mbappe latches on to a long ball before being brought down by Nicolas Tagliafico. This time, it’s a free kick just outside the penalty box. Fast forward to the 68th minute and France all but put Argentina out of their misery with the 19-year-old side-footing the ball into the bottom corner. The sheer pace on display between Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba, Olivier Giroud and N’Golo Kante gave Argentina no respite and no chance.
But now they’d be up against an Uruguay side which has conceded just one goal – joint best at this edition – and looked a defensive rock in Russia. And with all due respect to Argentina’s defenders, they’re no Diego Godin, Jose Gimenez and Martin Caceres.
On the face of it, both teams have been equally dominant so far – both are unbeaten and both have scored seven goals at the World Cup. But the difference comes in the manner of wins. Uruguay have been tough to break down and have employed multiple approaches when going forward. For instance, the long ball exchange between Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani for the opener against Portugal was a sight to behold. It went from Cavani to Suarez back to Cavani who headed the ball into the near side of Rui Patricio even with the delivery a touch behind him. However, Cavani in this deadly combination, is likely to play no part against Les Bleus which would come as a massive relief to Didier Deschamps’ France and only add to Oscar Tabarez’s workload.
France will have a much different challenge in Uruguay than they did against Argentina and Deschamps is well aware of that. “Uruguay is a south-American team very difficult to play,” Deschamps said on French television program Telefoot. “Uruguay is maybe close to Peru, it’s solid and aggressive. These are not qualities displayed by Argentina. A difficult match is expecting us.” France had earned a close 1-0 win over Peru in the group stages. An equally aggressive, tight and low scoring contest awaits France in Uruguay.
It is also a contest of club teammates going head-to-head which could play a role in preparation for the first quarterfinal. Griezmann and Lucas Hernandez go up against their Atletico Madrid team-mates Godin and Gimenez, PSG strike partners Cavani and Mbappe also cross paths while Rodrigo Bentancur and Blaise Matuidi play for Juventus, and Suarez and French defender Samuel Umtiti play for Barcelona. Club allegiance matters little when it comes to the World Cup, but it plays a role in devising strategy to face a player you see week in, week out. Don’t expect a flurry of goals, expect a tactical battle between the two veteran coaches and based on history, plenty of bookings.