France, Argentina seek true form in knockout meeting

Both teams, with an array of expensive players, are yet to put their best foot forward.

Angel di Maria Lionel Messi

Angel di Maria's (R) ability to provide width will be key to unlocking Lionel Messi in Argentina's match against France.   -  AP

 

After 48 bruising matches, the World Cup is set to have left the pretenders behind with the knockout stages kicking off with a battle of epic proportions. The richly decorated Argentina, yet to finds its true footing in Russia, will take on France, one of the many European powerhouses. The two teams, similar in design with their clutch of expensive players, are also guilty of not putting their best foot forward and the big-ticket encounter affords both managers – Jorge Sampaoli and Didier Deschamps – the chance to establish their credentials to guide these two thoroughbred football nations of the world.

Group stage review

Though, France qualified undefeated from its group, the team is yet to find a rhythm and Deschamps’ boys have lacked the intensity and vision associated with a leading side. The 1998 world champion has struggled to add goals, failing to fill-in for the poor form of Antoine Griezmann, who had top scored at the European championship two years back. The Atletico Madrid forward was substituted in all three group games and has failed to strike a partnership with Oliver Giroud. France, however, has the option of offering a start to either or both of its talented youngsters Kylian Mbappe or/and Ousmane Dembele.

France's Antoine Griezmann is yet to find his EURO 2016, where he top-scored with six goals.   -  Getty Images

 

“Kylian has huge quality and potential, he’s fast, explosive, he needs space and I think tomorrow he will get more than he did in the first three matches,” France captain Hugo Lloris said, indicating a start for the Paris Saint-Germain forward in a 4-3-3 formation. Atletico Madrid defender Lucas Hernandez will continue to occupy the left-back slot with Benjamin Mendy, who made a substitute appearance in the drab draw against Denmark, ruled out with a muscle issue.

 

Argentina’s path to the knockout stage has been far more shakier and Sampaoli is expected to continue with his 4-4-2 system with Ever Banega and Javier Mascherano, who is yet to look convincing, sitting deep to provide protection to the beleaguered defence, which has conceded five goals in three games.

Pogba vs Messi: the battle within the battle

Argentina will look to Angel Di Maria to offer width to its game, allowing Messi more freedom to drift inside from his outside-right position to add to his goal-scoring threat. “Messi is Messi, look at his stats, 65 goals in 127 matches (for Argentina), we would like to mark and neutralise him,” Deschamps said. “We know very well that he can make the difference with very little. We want to limit his impact at least.”

WATCH: Sampaoli, Banega share insights

The Argentines, well aware of the extra focus on Messi, has a plan of its own. "Messi is always surrounded by opposition players. We will try to pass him the ball as much so that he can play his game. France will plan to make his life difficult and we will try to make his life easier. Let's see who wins that battle," Banega said. "But we have other players as well who can hurt France."

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