The knockout rounds of the 2018 World Cup will get underway on Saturday, with two mammoth clashes. France take on Argentina in the first game of the day in Kazan, before Uruguay face off against Portugal in Sochi. If the unpredictable nature of the tournament so far is taken into account, we can expect surprises at every step of the way going forward too.
The winners of the above two games will face each other in the quarter finals. This may be the closest we ever come to witnessing a Messi vs Ronaldo faceoff at the World Cup. From a neutral point of view, France vs Uruguay will probably be a much better match in terms of quality, but a duel between the two greatest players of our generation at the grandest stage of them all, is probably a slightly more enticing prospect.
France vs Argentina
France, one of the favourites coming into the tournament, topped Group C without really impressing too much. Each of their first two victories against Australia and Peru came by a narrow one-goal margin, before Denmark held them to a 0-0 draw in the last group match. Didier Deschamps’ men certainly have a lot of flair and technical ability in the side, but there is a very perceptible lack of experience in his troops. It remains to be seen whether they have the character and tenacity to dig deep when things start to go wrong a little. Until now, they’ve never really been in trouble.
France’s best player so far has probably been N’Golo Kante in midfield. The Chelsea man has been at his best, breaking play up and covering every blade of grass on the pitch. He may not have the flair in front of goal that some of his other teammates do, but he is going to be very important going forward for Les Blues to stay solid at the back.
Argentina needed a late winner from Marcos Rojo to limp over the line against Nigeria and qualify for the last 16. They’ve arguably the most disappointing of the high-profile teams so far, drawing against Iceland in their first game before being played out of the park in a 3-0 defeat to Croatia. Lionel Messi did score a brilliant goal in the third game, but is yet to really take the tournament by storm. Against France though, he may find himself with a little more space to operate as Argentina might well find themselves playing on the counter.
Uruguay vs Portugal
Uruguay are only one of three teams to score a perfect 9 points out of 9 in the group stages. They are also the only team in the tournament yet to conceded a goal. After two unconvincing 1-0 wins over Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the South Americans really turned on the style in their third game against Russia, winning 3-0. Both Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani were on the scoresheet that day, and it will be upto this duo once again to make things happen.
For Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 4 out of their 5 goals so far, including a memorable hattrick to earn a 3-3 draw against Spain in the first match. He then went on to score the winner over Morocco, before a missed penalty over Iran that saw Portugal slip to second, after the Asians scored a late equalizer.
Ronaldo vs Diego Godin is going to be a fascinating battle. The latter has been solid as ever, and the Atletico Madrid centre-back has plenty of experience playing against the Real Madrid striker. Uruguay will know that if they can keep Ronaldo quiet, more than half their job is done, as there aren’t too many other players in the Portuguese side who can win a match on their own.