This article titled “World Cup 2018: France v Argentina set to kick off the last 16 – live!” was written by Ben Fisher (now) and Jonathan Howcroft (earlier), for theguardian.com on Saturday 30th June 2018 15.40 Asia/Kolkata
Artists have been slogging away through the night to depict the so-called Goats in all their glory, on the walls of a hotel in Kazan, the Russian city in which France take on Argentina in few hours’ time. Portugal take on Uruguay tonight. From Reuters:
Kazan artists worked through the night on Friday painting a mural of Argentina’s Lionel Messi to match one of Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo on a building opposite, saving the blushes of the World Cup host city.
The three-storey portrait of Ronaldo was painted on a building behind the Ramada hotel to welcome the five-time Ballon d’Or winner when Portugal played in the capital of Tatarstan in the 2017 Confederations Cup.
To the embarrassment of city officials, it turned out that Argentina would be staying at the same hotel ahead of Saturday’s World Cup last 16 clash against France with Messi potentially being able to see the Ronaldo mural from his room.
Africa has no representatives in the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time in 36 years – but no one is really surprised:
Lots of talent remains in Africa, of course. But when it comes to football, governments and federations tend to have less money for infrastructure than many European, Asian and American counterparts. In some cases much of the money that is available is siphoned off by parasitic officials. Venal administrators are among the reasons why Cameroon and Ghana, for instance, have been unable to build on glorious feats by players.
Transfer nugget: reports in France suggest Nabil Fekir, of longstanding interest to Liverpool, is a target for Manchester United. Lyon-based newspaper Le Progrès say United have expressed their interest in the 24-year-old forward. Liverpool’s deal to sign Fekir broke down before the World Cup, with concerns over his fitness.
Or get your World Cup fix, courtesy of The Guardian:
And, while you’re here, get your hands on:
Thinking about a last-minute jaunt to Russia?
France against Argentina and then Portugal pitting their wits against Uruguay, plus so many individual duels. What are we looking forward to most? Mbappé v Messi or Suárez v Ronaldo? What do we reckon? “A different competition is starting now because there’s no margin for error,” says Uruguay’s Matías Vecino, teeing everything up just beautifully. Less than five hours until kick-off …
England have form for being hurt by Premier League alumni. Among the 21 players out training today is Gary Cahill, formerly team-mates with Falcao, the Colombia striker intent on sending Gareth Southgate’s side packing in the last 16 on Tuesday. Falcao’s face didn’t fit at Chelsea but now he’s firing:
He never really got up and running, or got a good spell of games back to back to find any sort of form. Obviously the competition was there and I’m sure for him it was difficult but he showed his character to go on and find his goalscoring form again. He’s been banging goals in again ever since.
Gary Neville, the former England defender and coach, has questioned the change of “tone” surrounding the team since that slender defeat in Kaliningrad. “It’s the best opportunity we’ve had for 28 years to progress far in a World Cup,” Neville says. “We should enjoy it. Gareth will have known the risks of leaving players out, he will know what people will say if we lose against Colombia on Tuesday. He believes in the plan, he believes that England can go far in this competition.”
England are gearing up for that Colombia test on Tuesday night in Moscow, but what can Gareth Southgate’s squad expect from a team regarded as dark horses in some quarters and derided as poor in others, namely by Paul Merson. We know all about Falcao (don’t we?) and James Rodríguez, who will undergo a MRI scan to determine whether he can play any part in the game, but what about their other strengths and weaknesses? David Hytner has more:
And, with Davinson Sánchez set to duel with Harry Kane away from Tottenham’s Enfield training base, their WhatsApp group has gone into overdrive, with Kieran Trippier and Dele Alli likely to feature:
Argentina have been thoroughly disappointing so far, reaching this stage of the competition – the last 16 – by the skin of their teeth. Arguably their standout player, Éver Banega, has seized the chance to impress, though, having been omitted from the final 23-man squad for the World Cup in Brazil four years ago:
England are out training on a cold and drizzling day in Zelenogorsk, but Fabian Delph and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are both absent, the former having been given permission to fly home with his wife, Natalie, due to give birth today. Loftus-Cheek, meanwhile, is doing some gym work alone at the team hotel in Repino as part of his recovery from Thursday’s defeat to Belgium.
Brazil’s Neymar, as you’ve never seen him before:
Transfer nugget: a little underwhelming maybe, but Leeds United have signed Chelsea’s England Under-21 midfielder Lewis Baker on a season-long loan deal, with the goalkeeper Jamal Blackman likely to join him on a similar basis. Another deal set to go through imminently is David Brooks’s £11m move to Bournemouth from Sheffield United. Keep up-to-date with all the moves here:
The perfect way to limber up for a feast of football later today:
From the England camp, where the honeymoon’s over and suddenly not everything is a bed of roses, but fortunately, Gareth Southgate already knows as much. “I wasn’t so comfortable with the love-in in the buildup to Belgium, to be honest, so it’s nice that there’s a little bit of an edge back,” Southgate said.
Croatia have snuck into second, England’s next opponents Colombia are in fifth and Germany plummet to 25th. At the halfway stage, all 32 teams have been critiqued and rated:
It is 16 years to the day that Ronaldo – and his infamous hair island – got the better of Germany to win the 2002 World Cup in Yokohama:
A date with Argentina in Kazan gives France the perfect opportunity to turn on the style, given their wealth of, particularly attacking talent. Or will this be another one of those days, a stodgy performance, bogged down by individuals ultimately trying too hard or not hard enough? There has been so much Messi talk that it is easy to forget how big an occasion this is for Kylian Mbappé, Antoine Griezmann and perhaps Ousmane Dembélé. “He’s fast, explosive, needs space, and I think he will have more space than in the first three matches,” Hugo Lloris said of Mbappé.
Coming to a living room near you:
Straight to that talk of Lionel Messi dictating Jorge Sampaoli’s in-game tactics, with reports that the Argentina coach sought the approval of the Barcelona forward against Nigeria, asking him if it would be OK to bring on Sergio Agüero. “We looked at different options in an important game and had to make a decision,” Sampaoli said. “I was simply communicating this, saying we were going to use a strategy we had rehearsed to use more attacking players. It was a simple exchange I had with one of my players, that is all.”
Yesterday was kind of rubbish, a devastating lull as the last 16 readied itself, but today we are back, close to full throttle. There are not four games but a couple of Goats and two likely mouthwatering match-ups. Some, I see, are calling it Super Saturday, which speaks volumes of the magnitude, doesn’t it? We’ll be building up to France v Argentina (3pm BST) and Uruguay v Portugal (7pm), as well as soaking up all the other goings-on from around Russia and beyond.
Right, that’s about all you need from me for today. Ben Fisher will be taking over shortly to shepherd you closer to kick-off in that belting last 16 match between France and Argentina. Thanks for your company, I’ll see you here again soon.
“Morning Jonathan! It’s me, David Not-That-One Penney,” Morning Dave Penney (not that Dave Penney) great to have you on board again.
“We may not have a CAF team which is sad, but Japan to represent Asia is good? And two Scandinavian teams when for the past 15 years they’ve success has been pretty abject is worth celebrating?” Absolutely it is Dave, the more diversity the better.
Gokul Kannan is the latest emailer uninterested in the Messi vs. Ronaldo storyline that could eventuate in the quarterfinals. “I still don’t understand the fascination of a Messi vs Ronaldo matchup in this World Cup. They play against each other every year, and we all know how it goes. This will not be something rare to savour. The prospect of club teammates playing against each other is what makes these type of tournaments interesting. Exhibit 1: Rooney vs Ronaldo WC 2006. Exhibit 2: Gerrard vs Suarez WC 2014.”
The end of the group stage unfortunately also means the end of African participation in Russia 2018. Paul Doyle takes a look at why it’s been a World Cup to forget for the CAF.
Beyond those individual issues one could point to a couple of curious weaknesses that African teams (but not only African teams) displayed during this tournament: flawed defending from set-pieces and a lack of deadly predators. That again raises questions about individuals but also alludes to the wider issue shared by many African countries: incomplete honing of potential.
Simon Burnton has trawled through all the group stage stats, sifted through the data and hand picked some choice morsels for your delectation. It does make you wonder how Germany managed to cock things up so spectacularly and how Toni Kroos is particularly unfortunate to be heading home.
“I suppose a lot of people would suggest Evita as Argentina’s musical, but the way they’ve sputtered into the round of 16, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is more like it,” emails Peter Oh.
Andrew N is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it any more! “Why oh, why oh, why do we now insist on calling Round 1, the round of 16? Ever since 1994 or whenever that lot got interested in Soccer, when FIFA foolishly took the tournament to the US, this idiotic title has been used for the First [knockout] Round. We appear to still call Round 1, 2, and 3 of the FA Cup, Round 1, 2, or 3. Should we all change this to the round of 80, 40 and 64 respectively? Or should we come up with more literal names for rounds – For the FA Cup, Round 1 would become the round of teams who are involved only care, Round 2 the media become interested in non-league for a fleeting moment round, Round 3 the big boys round or the fingers crossed for a shock as it sells papers round. And for Round 1 of the FWC (an equally annoying abbreviation), the round of the day after the rest day, the round of wild expectations, the round of Ooo they’re playing each other, the round of we can win it now, or my personal favourite ROUND ONE. So endeth the lesson.”
As we’re shifting from the World Cup group phase to the knockouts it seems only fair we annoy everyone with crowdsourced opinions about the best and worst XIs of the tournament so far.
Here’s your best, which I have to say, restores my faith somewhat in the wisdom of crowds.
And from the tops, to the flops. I feel for David de Gea in this list. Yes he made a clanger against Portugal but that’s only one mistake compared to the repeat calamities endured by many other gloveman.
Have you suddenly contracted World Cup fever? Has the unfolding draw convinced you to book the holiday of a lifetime? Martha Kelner has all you need to know before you head to the travel agents.
You better familiarise yourself with this Aidan.
Some suggestions (not great it has to be said) have arrived to bolster the theme of World Cup teams as musical theatre shows.
Sweden are Mamma Mia (thanks to Abba), England are Spamalot, and Brazil are Sweeney Todd (courtesy of Neymar’s demon barber).
Time for a little snack break.
“Hi, Jonathan,” hi Jim Rogers. “What do you think are the chances we get a first time World Cup winner this year? 33% is where I’m at at the moment, but that’s with giving Spain and Brazil at least 20% each despite neither exactly being stellar so far. As for today, I’d like to see Uruguay advance, but the prospect of Messi-Ronaldo is tantalising, even if it would only be the quarters.”
Well Jim, Uruguay, France and Argentina are all in the same quarter of the draw competing for one semi-final spot. Brazil are in the opposite quarter of that half of the draw, so the chances of at least one former winner making the final must be pretty high.
The other half of the draw is more open but a Spain vs. England semifinal is not out of the question. So, for all the chaos of the group phase my money would still be on a former winner once again prevailing.
For what it’s worth, my two wildcard picks would be Croatia and Colombia.
While all eyes have been on Ronaldo, one of the highlights of Portugal’s campaign so far has been provided by Ricardo Quaresma. As Barney Ronay points out, the Portuguese winger has made the trivela (striking the ball with the outside of his right boot) his signature move.
An entire column about kicking the ball with the outside of your foot: nobody’s going to read that, said every sensible newspaper desk editor ever. But they will, because everyone loves the trivela. The players you’ve loved down the years have loved doing it. The great Serbian midfielder Dragan Stojkovic has YouTube videos dedicated solely to his use of the lofted back-spun trivela pass, a man for whom the entire world was interpreted through the outside of his right foot.
Changing tack slightly to the second game of the day, Uruguay vs. Portugal. Sid Lowe is all over this one with yet another clasico subplot to enjoy.
The Madrid derby and the clásico recreated. Pepe v Suárez, Godín v Ronaldo. There is plenty of previous. There’s Ronaldo and Godín battling in the area, Ronaldo punching Godín in the back of the head. There’s Suárez catching Pepe with a hand across the face one time and a boot across the shin another, the defender rolling round the turf with hand in the air, calling for the priest to deliver his last rites after both of them.
“While I imagine the pundits and fanboys are salivating at the prospect of a Messi vs Ronaldo quarter final, I must say that I am hoping for the exact opposite,” emails Simon Horwell. “France vs Uruguay please. The only entertainment stain on this World Cup – aside from the soul crushing ineptitude of Fox’s coverage here in the US – has been the ad nauseam Messi vs Ronaldo narrative. As if there aren’t 700+ others players to talk about. The sooner both go home, the better.”
This is a point I can empathise with but ultimately disagree with. What is the World Cup for if not the grand narratives of our age? Messi and Ronaldo are not just good players, they are transcendent, and belong in conversation with the very best of all time. How often have such worlds collided on the biggest stage? Cruyff and Beckenbauer in ‘74, Maradona and Hodge in ‘86? I am as curmudgeonly as the next ex-pat Yorkshireman but even I don’t begrudge the clash of the titans narrative on this one.
Jonathan Wilson has cast his analytical eye over the indomitable Javier Mascherano.
Amid the panic, amid the fury, amid the hopelessly ambitious through-balls and dismal crosses, there was still that, the bronca, the spirit of defiance that so often fired Diego Maradona, that has in the past so often propelled Argentina. At least twice, Mascherano gave the ball away then charged back to reclaim it with a tackle. In his refusal to shirk responsibility, he was relentless.
“As a kid I lived in France so I’m rooting for France,” emails Kari Tulinius, “but I wouldn’t begrudge Messi going on to the quarters, especially if he met Portugal. Though Uruguay-Argentina would be a heck of a game too. And Uruguay-France would be a meeting of the two most impressive defensive units on this side of the draw. One player that hasn’t been getting enough praise is Raphaël Varane. He’s got a “none shall pass” vibe about him this year. France could Italy their way to the final with a series of 1-0 wins.”
Thanks Kari, interesting question in there: would French supporters be happy with ‘Italying’ their way to a World Cup win? Clearly there’s something in the DNA of Italian football that values defensive pragmatism but is it the same elsewhere in the world and in France in particular?
Jorge Valdano has been an outstanding addition to The Guardian’s World Cup coverage and the Argentinian’s latest column espouses the glory of drama and emotion in an era of certainty and data.
Of course the data helps but in the world of play, like in art, we have to put a limit on it because these are realms of freedom. The big problem is that with every step we take towards “scientific certainties”, players lose a little more freedom. Freedom for what? To think. There’s a reason they’re the protagonists.
The Tweet from Michael Nyman started me thinking. Both France and Argentina can be understood through music – well, musical theatre. The story of France in Les Miserables, modern Argentina acting as the backdrop to Evita. Are any other World Cup contenders addressed in this fashion? Has anyone ever done a World Cup of musicals, Grantland-style?
The draw dictates this mega head-to-head would be in the quarterfinals, but yes, I can’t see anybody not wanting to watch that particular scene unfold.
Speaking of the draw, I’m trying unsuccessfully to link to the wallchart on the site. It is here though, if you’re looking for it.
Absolutely not Michael, especially if you are the Michael Nyman. Although as they are now on the same half of the draw your dream can only come true in the semis.
Graham Dwyer with the opening email of the day. “Today is like two finals in one day. Can’t wait for Argentina to stuff the French and Uruguay to demolish Portugal.”
Very pro-South America for Graham. Is that a common feeling among neutrals? My own personal preference would be France and Portugal.
Although for all France’s problems they cruised through the group phase, unlike Argentina. Guardian columnist Marcel Desailly shares his experience of underperforming at a World Cup and questions Argentina’s direction under Jorge Sampaoli.
We know Messi is great but we’re confused and sad for him. He is such a pure Barcelona product but with Argentina right now Messi’s in a mess. Something is missing – is it unity, faith? Messi doesn’t seem to fit into the collective. They have so many talented strikers, so many skilful attacking players and yet they don’t seem to know how to get the best out of them. They are really struggling. Is it the system? Is there a certain spirit missing?
Despite a surfeit of superstars France have yet to set the tournament alight. Now they face the prospect of having to click into gear in attack while simultaneously combatting one Lionel Messi in defence. No easy feat.
Let’s start the day 17 ball rolling with an upbeat Barney Ronay setting the scene for the knockout stages.
This has felt like a genuinely epic-scale World Cup, football in a big country, with a vast bloom of interest and history in every city. The weather will now change, with a more staccato feel to the more micro-managed drama of knockout football. Over to you, part two. It won’t be an easy act to follow.
Yey! It’s a football day!
Remember yesterday, when there was no football to watch? It was horrible, wasn’t it? Well, fear not. Normal life, a functioning circadian rhythm, and conversations about the weather can be shelved for another day because today we will be served more glorious World Cup football.
First on the agenda is France vs. Argentina, a pairing that would grace a World Cup final but will instead kick-off the round of 16. Following that blockbuster Uruguay and Portugal will put their credentials to the test in a match with the potential to redefine footballing bastardy.
So dig out your remote from the back of the sofa, pile up your salty snackfoods and caffeinated beverages and tuck into a massive plateful of Messi, Ronaldo, Suarez, Pogba and the rest. It’s going to be glorious.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010