Beware the World Cup’s Slow Starters
As we’ve seen during previous World Cups, the best team in the group stages don’t always go on to win the tournament. That could spell bad news for supporters of Uruguay who were arguably the most impressive side in early qualifying, as they became the first nation since Argentina in 1998 to progress through the groups with three straight wins and without conceding a goal.
England and Belgium could also be cursed by that theory but as Russia 2018 heads into the knockout stage, no football supporter could accuse either France or Argentina to be among the best teams at this year’s World Cup.
Argentina scraped through thanks to a late goal from Marcos Rojo and their struggle to qualify from Group D brought back memories of 1990 when the South Americans lost their opening match to unfancied Cameroon before making it all the way to the final.
In this year’s Round of 16, Argentina will face a French team who topped Group C without ever looking convincing. France were favourites to win that section but many pundits, including those from odds comparison site Oddschecker, felt that they wouldn’t dominate and that was certainly the case.
Both France and Argentina have won the tournament fairly recently and few will be ruling either team out of a repeat. However, by the quarter-final stage, one of these sides will be eliminated, so who will keep their Russia 2018 hopes alive after this round-of-16 clash?
It was widely perceived that Lionel Messi was enduring a poor tournament but, as is often the case, statistics were suggesting otherwise. After two group matches, the Barcelona striker had 12 attempts on goal and that’s more than any other player at that stage of the competition.
Those figures may tell us that Lionel Messi was perhaps not at his best but they also proved that he remained a threat. A goal against Nigeria followed and somehow, Argentina made it through and while it may seem obvious to identify Messi as a key player, it’s important for France to recognise that he isn’t necessarily having another poor tournament.
France may provide a dual striking threat if manager Didier Deschamps chooses to start with both Antoine Griezmann and Kylian MBappe up front. Griezmann was highly fancied for the Golden Boot as the tournament’s leading goal scorer but after the first round of games, he has registered just one goal in three and that was from the penalty spot.
MBappe has also found the target on one solitary occasion but it’s interesting to note that both men have picked up a Man of the Match award during the group phases of Russia 2018.
The winners of this tie will surely fancy their chances of getting past either Uruguay or Portugal in the quarterfinals. From there, battles will become much tougher with the potential to face either Germany or Brazil in the semi but at that deep stage in the tournament, those misfiring strikers should have found their range and despite their slow beginnings, both France and Argentina offer a real threat as Russia 2018 continues.