France edge Argentina to reach quarters
KAZAN,30th June: France pipped Argentina 4-3 in a classic encounter to enter the quarter-finals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup here on Saturday. Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappé (64th, 68th minutes) played a major role in France's victory. The 19-year-old sensation set the Kazan Arena alight, scoring a brace and winning a penalty. That penalty was converted by Antoine Griezmann (13th minute) while Benjamin Pavard (57th minute) scored the other French goal.
Ángel Di María (41st minute), Gabriel Mercado (48th minute) and Sergio Agüero (90+3rd minute) found the back of the net for Argentina. Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli made changes to his team's formation and tactics, leaving star strikers Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero on the bench in order to put out a more packed midfield and used Lionel Messi as a 'false nine'. The move however, did not turn out to be a big success as Argentina struggled to create clear chances in the first half.
The veteran Javier Mascherano had an indifferent game in the centre of the Argentine midfield while the defenders struggled to contain the pace and power of the French forwards and midfielders. Argentina full backs Mercado and Nicolas Tagliafico were repeatedly caught out of position by the speed of the French counter-attacks.
Nicolas Otamendi did have a fairly decent game at the heart of the Argentina defence althugh the same could not be said of his fellow centre-back Marcos Rojo. Griezmann almost gave France the lead in the ninth minute, but his viciously swerving, dipping free-kick thundered off the bar with Argentina goalkeeper Franco Armani well and truly beaten. But the Atletico Madrid star could not be denied four minutes later when he fired home from the penalty spot after Mbappe had been brought down inside the box by Argentine defender Marcus Rojo.
With Griezmann, Mbappe, Paul Pogba, N'Golo Kante and Blaise Matuidi causing all sorts of problems for the South Americans' defence with their superior pace and tactical nous, a second French goal seemed only a matter a time.
At the other end of the pitch, Argentina were struggling to break down the French defence. But Angel di Maria brought the two-time winners back on level terms with a superb long range strike shortly before the break. Gabriel Mercado put the South American giants ahead just after half-time when he somewhat inadvertently deflected Messi's attempt in at the near post.
But whatever hopes the Argentine players and fans may have entertained at that point soon evaporated into thin air as France gradually started to dominate proceedings. Pavard scored the equaliser for France when he fired home a first tie effort from just inside the penalty box.
Mbappe played a crucial role in the French resurgence. He put the Europeans in the lead by beating Armani at the near post with a powerful finish after a nice move down the left side of the Argentine box. He got his second goal a short while later after yet another nice move by the French.
That knocked the wind out of Argentina's sails and they never seemed capable enough to make a comeback. Aguero scored their third goal in second half added time to ensure a tense finish to what was surely the best match so far of this World Cup.