Argentina to meet France in pre-quarters opener

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Hindustan Surkhiyan Desk:Argentina and France are all set to lock horn in a Round-of-16 clash at the 2018 FIFA World Cup at the Kazan Arena here on Saturday.

Despite boasting a squad overflowing with attacking talent, Argentina have struggled in their group matches. After being held 1-1 by Iceland in their campaign opener, the two-time World Cup winners were thrashed 0-3 by Croatia.

Facing a must win contest against Nigeria in their last group match, Argentina were in real danger of being eliminated before Marcus Rojo scored a late winner to send them through.

Part of Argentina’s woes have been FC Barcelona megastar Lionel Messi’s inability to reproduce his club form for his country.

The dimunitive genius has struggled to carry the pressure and weight of expectations that comes along with the Argentine jersey. With coach Jorge Sampaoli seeming to build his strategies around him, Messi’s struggles have hurt the entire team.

Messi had however, delivered against Nigeria when he exploited some extra space allowed to him by the Africans’ defence to score a brilliant opening goal. Argentina fans will be hoping for more of the same on Saturday.

The Argentine defence have also let the team down and had committed several glaring errors, especially against Iceland and Croatia. The poor form of the veteran Javier Mascherano must be giving sleepless nights to Sampaoli.

As a team, Argentina will have to do much better against France, who have, on paper at least, one of the most talented squads at this World Cup.

France have not fared any better. Placed in a relatively easy group, they struggled to beat Australia and Peru by narrow margins before being held to a goalless stalemate by Denmark.

They will face their first big test against Argentina. Thanks to a profusion of African origin players in their squad, France have pace and power in attack.

If N’golo Kante, Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba manage to impose themselves in the midfield, then things will get extremely tough for Argentina.

France coach Didier Deschamps however, feels that Messi could prove to be the decisive factor.

“Messi is Messi. Just you have to look at his statistics: 65 goals in 127 appearances with his national team. The intention is to neutralize him,” the 1998 World Cup winning captain was quoted as saying by Efe on Friday.

“We do not have a specific plan for him. A ‘plan’ is a big word, the idea is to limit his influence,” the 49-year-old added.

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