France vs Argentina
And we’re off, and what an unbelievable game to begin the 2018 World Cup Round of 16! Kylian Mbappe will be the talk of the tournament, at least for the next week, as he truly announced himself as a world class player, scoring twice in a 4-3 game that sent Argentina home.
Easily the game of the tournament so far, Antoine Griezmann opened the scoring with a penalty, and France dominated the majority of the first half until Angel Di Maria scored a screamer to tie things up.
Argentina went ahead very quickly after the start of the second half, and it looked like they would yet again find a way to scrape through until Benjamin Pavard scored the goal of the tournament so far, striking on the half-volley and sending the ball flying in to the top corner to make the score 2-2.
Mbappe proved his worth less than 10 minutes later, putting the French back ahead and then doubling their lead to 4-2 less than five minutes after that.
Sergio Aguero did score a consolation goal in the 93rd minute, but it simply wasn’t enough for an Argentinian side that again started without Gonzalo Higuain and the aforementioned Aguero.
It’s an unfortunate side effect of having Lionel Messi, one of the best players in the world, in your team. It’s never easy to drop Messi, almost impossible, but as we’ve seen, he simply doesn’t perform for the national team.
Aguero and Higuain performed better than Messi in the previous games they player, but found themselves on the bench because Messi is un-droppable.
Aguero scored a goal when it mattered, and whether it was too late or not, if Aguero had 90 minutes in this game, I have no doubt he would have made much a bigger impact than Messi did.
Despite this, all of the blame cannot be placed on Messi not performing. Tactically Argentina have been completely disjointed from Game 1. They seem to play five defenders and five attackers, and today it was shown again that they’re easily beaten to the ball in midfield as Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi dominated with N’Golo Kante yet again showing why he is one of the best midfielders in the world.
Credit has to go to France, instead of using this as a time to bash Argentina, too. Mbappe alone destroyed the Argentinian defense and they could not deal with the 19-year-old’s quick feet, matched with Griezmann’s brain and Pogba’s strength.
The three goals that Argentina scored flattered them. France could, and probably should have had the game tied up early (especially with Griezmann hitting the bar), but they’ll be happy to go through at the Argentinian’s expense, despite the score being closer than it probably should have been.
France will play again on Friday at 3 p.m., having made it through to their second World Cup Quarter-Final in a row. Their last Quarter-Final ended in a 1-0 loss to the eventual winners Germany, but we know that won’t be happening again this year!
Uruguay vs Portugal
While we were treated to the spectacle that was France vs Argentina, Uruguay vs Portugal unfortunately did not live up to the expectations set from that first game in the Round of 16.
It was a match that was dominated by certain refereeing decisions (or the lack thereof), and at points it seemed as if the referee had truly lost the game in his attempts to let certain things slide while penalizing others.
Uruguay walked/limped out winners 2-1, sending Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portugal teammate’s home without truly ever giving them a sniff of hope or victory.
Only one yellow card was shown the entire game, in a match that could have easily seen three or four per team, but the referee seemed happy to let things go, and take forever in the calling of fouls before any whistle was blown.
Despite the frustrations the refereeing performance provided, we were truly spoiled with two world class goals by Edinson Cavani. Unfortunately for Cavani and anybody involved in Uruguayan soccer, Cavani limped off quite gingerly in the second half, and Uruguay are said to be “concerned” about the striker’s hamstring.
A frustrating game all around for the neutral viewer was made worse by the Uruguayan’s time wasting, starting roughly around the eighth minute after Cavani’s first goal.
Luis Suarez was the worst culprit for it, going down several times holding his face when replays would show that contact wasn’t even close. It’s an unfortunate part of the tournament so far, as we’ve seen so many teams employing the tactic of diving and time wasting to try and gain an advantage over their opponents.
VAR has been put in to place to tackle this, among other things, but it was never employed, at least to the viewer’s knowledge, other than in one scenario where there could have been a potential handball in Uruguay’s box. The correct decision was made in that scenario.
The time wasting and diving tactics used by Uruguay’s players throughout this match leads me to believe that they’ll quite easily be found out by a stronger team than Portugal.
Uruguay will now place France in the next round, and watching France quite easily carve Argentina’s defense apart in the first game of the Round of 16, it’s hard to see how Uruguay can get past a midfield and attack as strong as France’s, especially without Edinson Cavani potentially.
We’re now left with the reality that the two best players in the world, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, have crashed out of the World Cup on the same day. Truly, the tournament won’t be the same without them, but it does just go to show that when it comes down to the wire, it’s 11 men on that field playing together, and no matter how good you are, nobody can be carried by one man through to the Quarter Finals of a World Cup.
Spain vs Russia
Spain are out! The first of two penalty shootouts on the second day of Round of 16 play saw Spain sent home after absolutely dominating possession throughout the first 120 minutes of the game.
Throughout the game, Spain recorded more than 700 more passes than Russia, which proves that their possession style of
soccer simply doesn’t cut it when a position in the last eight is on the line.
Spain’s departure from the tournament isn’t exactly a shock, despite it being Russia that knocked them out. On the eve of the tournament, Spain sacked their manager after formally announcing his plans to replace Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid after the World Cup.
The announcement made a clear rift in the Spain squad, and if reports are to be believed, the players simply weren’t cohesive anymore.
Coming up against a cohesive side like Russia is never easy even if you don’t have the drama that Spain encountered the day before the tournament. Russia went 1-0 down and had to adjust, but were able to equalize after a blatant handball from Gerard Pique in the box gifted the Russians a penalty.
Sergio Ramos will have wanted to claim Spain’s only regular time goal of the game, but it will go down formally as a Sergei Ignashevich own goal after the Russian’s conceded yet another goal from a set-piece. All of their conceded goals in the tournament have come from set-pieces so far.
Spain will be severely disappointed to leave the competition without giving it a real go, but they can have no complaints after squandering chances time after time in a game that really could have been sealed in the first half.
Extra time loomed, and then came and then went, being followed by penalties where Igor Akinfeev, the Russian Captain, became a nationwide hero, stopping two penalties when it mattered, most notable Iago Aspas’ attempt down the middle with his trailing leg to seal the tie.
The win sends Russia through to the Quarter-Finals for the first time since 1970, and in their own backyard no less. This Russian team will feel invincible currently, especially with Akinfeev with the captain’s armband and between the sticks.
Spain will go home licking their wounds and thinking about what could have been if circumstances would have been different. It remains to be seen whether the sacking of Julen Lopetegui a day before the start of the tournament will have a negative impact on Real Madrid’s season, but what we do know is that it definitely had a negative impact on Spain’s Summer, and those Spanish players will have a longer break than they planned on before returning for club soccer.
Croatia vs Denmark
Heartbreak continued in another relatively stale game that went late in to extra time and then to penalties before the drama really ensued.
Croatia went through on the night after Ivan Rakitic scored the decisive penalty which will see Croatia play Russia in the next round on Saturday July 7th.
The score was 1-1 within the first five minutes, but after the early excitement, the two teams seemed to take a step back, looking nervous to actually press with the fear that they might be caught on the counter-attack.
Just before the end of extra time, Croatia were awarded a penalty after Denmark’s Mathias Jorgensen brought down the last man Ante Rebic who had rounded Kasper Schmeichel and was through on goal. Jorgensen only received a yellow card for his troubles, but the damage could have been irreparable if it wasn’t for Schmeichel’s heroics in front of legendary father Peter.
Schmeichel saved Luka Modric’s penalty and held on to the ball to stop any chance of a rebound which caused the Danish players and fans to resort to hysterics.
The game wasn’t over, however, and just a few minutes later the referee signaled for penalty kicks for the second game in a row, a World Cup first.
The first penalty kicks for either team were saved by their respective keepers, and after a topsy-turvy round of kicks, Danijel Subasic saved Jorgensen’s penalty and Ivan Rakitic stepped up next to finish things off.
Croatia won the penalty shootout 3-2 and sent Denmark packing.
The Danish will be upset overall, especially with Schmeichel saving three total penalties throughout the game, but the team simply didn’t finish their chances in normal time, extra time or penalties.
The saves that Subasic made, while heroic, were routine, and the Danish penalty takers will want to look back on their efforts and make sure they work on their finishing for the future.
The win sets up half of the Quarter-Finals so far, with Uruguay playing France, and Russia playing Croatia. By Tuesday, we’ll know who plays who in the final two Quarter-Final games of the tournament, but without Argentina, Portugal, Spain and Germany, it’ll be a strange end to what has been an incredible tournament so far!