Argentina expert has sat down with Football News to provide an insight into what France can expect for Saturday’s Round of 16 World Cup clash.
Firstly, how have Argentina’s performances at this world cup been received at home so far?
The ecstasy of qualifying for the last 16 late on aside, it has been a deeply disappointing but also painfully predictable Argentina performance so far. Given how poor qualification was and how it took a Lionel Messi hat-trick in Quito to even reach Russia, expectation was low.
However, with Messi there is hope and so many simply crossed their fingers that Sampaoli found a system and it clicked. Certainly the first two performances it didn’t and they were met with about as much enthusiasm as the players. With the players now clearly instructing Sampaoli they need to play a certain way, there were improvements during the first half against Nigeria and it was the first time Argentina were positive. The second half negated that until Marcos Rojo’s winner and now it is case of taking each game as they come.
What is the mood of both the squad and the public like after Marcos Rojo’s late winner against Nigeria and what are the expectations for the team now they are through?
Apprehension is probably the main feeling now that the initial joy of reaching the last 16 has subsided. France are viewed as much stronger opponents than Argentina faced in the group and the feeling is that another significant improvement will be needed. For the first time in Russia, Argentina are probably not the favourites to win which relieves a little pressure and for now most people just wait and see. A win against France and suddenly the belief that they could win it would surge.
What is the perception of Deschamps’ France team in Argentina ahead of their last 16 meeting?
The perception is that France are an incredibly talented group but that is based far more on the big names like Pogba and Griezmann and their status in world football rather than how France have specifically been performing. Argentine football can be a little insular and so outside of knowing the stars from their European clubs, there will be little knowledge of Deschamps and his tactical ideas.
After a multitude of tactical switches so far, how do you expect Jorge Sampaoli and his team to approach this game with Les Bleus?
Well the question is whether Sampaoli is even making such decisions but after the switch for the Nigeria game saw the best 45 minutes Argentina have produced in Russia, it would look most likely that there will be little change. The players were fed up with Sampaoli’s changes and didn’t suit the 3-man defence and so what we have now after the post-Croatia meeting is something far more similar to the 2014 side.
Where is this game most likely to be won or is lost? What are seen as the weaknesses of this Argentina team and could France exploit them?
Argentina’s weaknesses are numerous and a good, organized side should be able to take advantage. The defence is fragile and worryingly slow when holding a high line so the pace of Mbappe could be a real danger. While Luka Modric and Co. showed just what can happen against a top midfield. Javier Mascherano is far from the player he once was and although the introduction of Banega has helped things, a strong French midfield could really control matters and ultimately cut off Messi’s supply.
What is the Argentine perspective on Ligue 1’s prominent Argentina players? Specifically Angel Di Maria and Giovani Lo Celso.
Contrasting. Angel Di Maria has been an ever-present in the Argentina side for years but rarely seems to produce the goods, instead running head down into dead ends or making poor decisions on the ball. As a result many would prefer to see Boca youngster Cristian Pavon start in his place. While Giovani Lo Celso has somewhat inexplicably not been used. The youngster looked all set to form part of the Argentina starting midfield and then dropped off the radar. With Sampaoli’s side crying out for a player of his qualities, it is a shame that he hasn’t seen any time.
Sampaoli’s squad includes a number of players based in Argentina, what does this say about the Primera and player development in Argentina?
The quality in Argentina’s top flight varies greatly but for all the problems with football in Argentina, it is still producing quality talents. Cristian Pavon looks destined for a big move to Europe, Maxi Meza could too and then there are the likes of Lo Celso or Nicolas Tagliafico who not too long ago were gracing the league. The issue for Argentina is of course that in most cases these players get skimmed off the top very quickly and in the long run negatively impacts the quality of the league and Argentine football in general.
Finally, what’s your prediction ahead of the weekend’s game?
Some people’s tips to win it and others tips to go out in the groups, Argentina are difficult to read. Essentially any success rests with Messi and while that can always be enough, the fear is that against a decent team, Messi will be shut down and Argentina will break. France will be favourites on Saturday and if they control that midfield, I expect Argentina’s dream to come to an end.
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