Day 16 Summary: The Last goodbye for the Ballon d’Or boys?
That’s the question everyone is asking after Christiano Ronaldo’s Portugal & Leo Messi’s Argentina we’re both eliminated from the World Cup.
Argentina kicked off the second round of games against France and were almost ahead in the opening minutes when Antione Griesmann cannoned a free kick against the crossbar. But France didn’t have to wait long for the breakthrough, Kylian M’bappe picked up the ball deep in his own half and sprinted 70 yards into Argentina’s box before being clumsily brought down by Marcos Rojo for a penalty. Griesmann converted and France went on to dominate the first half but couldn’t add to their lead. With halftime approaching they were made to pay as Angel De Maria picked up the ball 25 yards out and smashed home a stunning equalizer.
It sparked Argentina into life and positive start to the second half was quickly rewarded when Messi’s shot on turn was diverted home by Gabriel Mercado to give Argentina a 2-1 lead. But it only lasted 11 minutes before fullback Benjamin Pavard volleyed home a spectacular equalizer. Then M’bappe took centre stage, first he showed control in the box to turn away from a scramble and angle home for 3-2. Then with Argentina pressing a fine French counter attack instigated by Blaise Matuidi saw Oliver Giroud put M’bappe clean through and his pinpoint finish made it 4-2. France’s powerful midfield dominated the closing stages of the match until Messi sent an inch perfect centre into the path of substitute Sergio Aguero who headed home 3 minutes into injury time, but there would be no late shock and France held out for a thrilling 4-3 victory.
In the evening game it was Ronaldo’s turn as Portugal took on their South American mirror image Uruguay. But it was Uruguay’s deadly duo of Edinson Cavani & Luis Suarez who took centre stage. After just 7 minutes Cavani picked out Suarez on the left-wing who dribbled and then delivered a beautifully weighted cross which Cavani sprinted forward to and head home for 1-0. The game turned into a midfield battle with Cavani often dropping back to give Uruguay 5 bodies in the middle of the park. Meanwhile Diego Godin & Jose Jimenez closely marshalled CR7 as Uruguay took their lead into half-time.
But 10 minutes into the second half Portugal were level well pantomime villain Pepe thundered home a header from a corner. But Uruguay remained calm and just 7 minutes after drawing level Portugal were behind again when a long goal kick caught Pepe out of position and Cavani found himself free on the edge of the box to drill home a first time shot. Portugal threw everything forward and Bernardo Silva almost got the best of a goal mouth scramble but Uruguay held on despite losing Cavani to injury before the end.
The question now is will we ever see Ronaldo (33) or Messi (31) at the World Cup again. Messi has often looked ill at ease within the Argentine set-up and will need convincing to stay on and try to win a medal with his country. Ronaldo is a different character who will have noted Roger Federer still winning Grand Slams at 36 & Tom Brady going to Super Bowls at 40 and probably has designs on playing aged 37 in Qatar: we’ll see.
Day 17 Preview
Russia vs Spain (Moscow)
For Russia the draw couldn’t be tougher but the venue couldn’t be better. The passionate home support will have to get behind their team if they are to have a chance against stylish Spain. The Spanish haven’t thrilled and their only win to date was a laboured 1-0 success against Iran and looked surprisingly nervy against Morocco. But they have dynamic talent across the pitch and in Isco one of the stars of the tournament thus far. Russia will need to defend far better than they did against Uruguay or were ever required to against Saudi Arabia or Egypt with Igor Akinfeev key. The longer this stays level the more Spain could become frustrated but it’s hard not see them scoring and should have too much firepower for Russia.
Prediction Russia 1-3 Spain
Croatia vs Denmark (Nizhny Novgorod)
Croatia were the best side of the group phase with their dynamic midfield trio of Modric- Rakitic- Brozovic whilst Dejan Lovren has held the defence together. Denmark are predictable but effective, they’ll stay in their tight defensive shell and rely on Christian Eriksen to instigate counter attacks. Neither of these 2 sides have won a knockout game since 1998 so someone will end that sequence tonight and I can’t see it being Denmark.
Prediction: Croatia 2-1 Denmark