On the 30th of June in the first round of 16 games of the 2018 World Cup, 1-time winner France, faced off against 2-time winners Argentina. It was a clash of titans between France, a young team full of potential who qualified with easy through their group, while Argentina had to leave it to a late winner in their last group game vs Nigeria, to help them qualify for the round of 16.
France set up in their 4-4-2 which had helped them get out of the group and consisted of an unusual selection of Blaise Matuidi on the left-hand side of the midfield while Oliver Giroud would play upfront next to Antoine Griezmann. While Argentina set up in a 4-3-3, but the Argentinians World Cup campaign had been marred with whether the team was truly under the control of their manager Jorge Sampaoli or if they Lionel Messi had been choosing the team. As soon as the game started, this idea had seemed to of disappeared as the game became one of end to end action. 13 minutes into the game, Kylian Mbappe burst through the heart of the Argentine defence and looked as if he was about to score, until Marcos Rojo pulled Mbappe down in the box, ultimately giving France a penalty. Antoine Griezmann then cooly slotted the penalty into the bottom left of the corner giving France an early lead. The game continued to be a back and forth affair between the 2 teams until the end of the first half when from 30 yards out Di Maria proceeded to hit the ball perfectly into the top right-hand corner of the France goal. Although that was a contender for goal of the tournament, it was not even the best goal in the game and showcased the fact Argentina were growing into the game.
The 2nd half was when the game began to gain in excitement. Right at the start of the 2nd half, Gabriel Mercado scores a deflected shot from Messi to give Argentina a shock lead in the game, which could be certainly seen as against the run of play. Then in the 57th minute, the goal of the tournament was scored by an unlikely scorer in Benjamin Pavard. The ball was whipped in from out wide by Lucas Hernandez, meeting nobody in the box, which allowed Pavard to hit the ball sweetly and first time, with the ball to knuckleballing into the top left-hand corner out of Franco Armani’s reach.
The game then turned into the Kylian Mbappe show. In the space of 4 minutes, he practically knocks Argentina out of the World Cup, two well-taken finishes took Mbappe’s tally in the tournament to 3, while also giving France a 2 goal lead. A late Sergio Aguero goal from a Lionel Messi cross gave Argentina a small lifeline, but the goal was too later for them to overcome France.
So how did France manage to outplay Argentina, and help make this game a World Cup Classic.
The first step that France took in winning this game is isolating Messi. Players such as N’golo Kante would specfically man mark Messi out of the game to try and stop him receiving the ball, due to him being the main attacking threat for Argentina. While the 2 banks of 4 France would use also made life difficult for Messi as he was unable to create due to the large amount of bodies in the centre of the pitch.
France, would then lure Argentina into attacking, and would allow them to then attack on the counter using the pace of Mbappe to their advantage, as seen with how the penalty was won for the first goal. France also made use of their full backs pushing forward. The man marking Argentina would employ allowed space to occur on the flanks as the Argentine defence were more occupied with the likes of Mbappe, Griezmann and Giroud, which then allowed Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard to push foward, and the threat they possed could be seen with the 2nd France goal, as the cross came in from Hernandez and then met by Pavard to score THAT goal.
While for Argentina, they used a system which had not been used previously in the tournament. The 4-3-3 Argentina used allowed Messi to play as a centre foward and drop deep to recieve the ball, but due to the compactness of France, he possed little threat to them. Additionally, Argentina proved to show no attacking intent from the flanks as both full-backs in Gabriel Mercado and Nicolas Tagliafico stayed deep when Argentina deployed their possession based style. While wingers Christian Pavon and Angel Di Maria stayed too wide and did not show the intent to cut in and use the space that Messi left behind.
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