France booked their place in the World Cup quarter-finals on Saturday afternoon with 4-3 win in what was an eventful clash in Kazan.
Les Bleus became the first side into the last eight in a highly entertaining match, full of drama, brilliant goals and defending that was concerning to the point of negligent.
Argentina may leave with a few regrets, and for Lionel Messi it may be his final act at a World Cup, but France march on to face the winner of Uruguay versus Portugal.
But what did we learn from France’s qualification for the quarter-final?
France finally showed their teeth at this World Cup
It only took four matches, but France finally look like a team capable of going all the way and winning the World Cup. This was a performance that put Argentina to the sword (even if the scoreline didn’t fully reflect that) and one upon which a successful campaign can be built.
The interplay between the forwards, the control of midfield, the full-backs getting involved to such a devastating degree – it all clicked for Didier Deschamps’ side in a way that it hadn’t up until this point. The manager needs to allow this team off the leash more – if he can bring himself to do that, Les Bleus could take some stopping.
Kylian Mbappe has emerged as the driving force of this team
The obvious caveat here is that, as the second most expensive player of all time at €180m, Kylian Mbappe should be capable of grabbing a game by the scruff of the neck, but PSG didn’t buy a complete player with that fee. They bought an extremely talented teenager with an abnormally high ceiling, but was nowhere near the finished article.
In that sense, this match has elevated him. To turn it on like that, scoring twice and harassing the Argentine defence to such an overwhelming degree, it’s how stars are born. Mbappe’s outrageous transfer fee saw the cart put before the horse in terms of his career progression, but he’s driving this Frnace team now and that’s how reputations are cemented.
France’s concentration is still an issue
France were comfortable for a lot of this match, and yet the scoreline rarely reflected that dominance. (Indeed, for nine confusing minutes, they even found themselves 2-1 behind.) Deschamps’ side did enough to win this match several times over, but kept allowing Argentina to give themselves hope where there should have been none.
From Griezmann’s miss in the first half to allowing Mercado the space to divert Messi’s shot into the net, right up to Sergio Aguero’s last-gasp header to add a lot more dignity to the scoreline than there perhaps should have been.
Lapses in concentration allowed Australia to equalise against them in their opener and should have been punished by Peru; they are a brilliant team, but need to maintain
Lionel Messi deserved better than that
Amid the postmortem of Argentina’s exit, it should be remembered that Lionel Messi provided two assists for the side’s three goals, and there was really very little else he could do in the face of the motorised ball of hot garbage that was going on around him.
The pendulum of Messi’s World Cups has swung wildly from a disjointed system to a near miss, and back again. He’ll be 35 by the next one in 2022 and, though he may participate in it, one feels that his chance to finally banish the Diego Maradona comparison by winning the trophy is now gone.
Jorge Sampaoli shouldn’t be judged on this tournament alone
When a tournament turns into a disaster for a team, the natural inclination is normally to pour as much scorn as possible on the manager involved. Indeed, the Argentina players had reportedly done away with Jorge Sampaoli as their boss towards the end of the group campaign and fended for themselves.
However, Sampaoli deserves better than to be remembered for this campaign, particularly as he is likely to lose his job over Argentina’s poor campaign. As abject as it was, though, and granted there were decisions that the former Sevilla and Chile boss made that were questionable, there aren’t many who would have fared better with the mess that was this squad.
Sampaoli was the right man at the wrong time, with a system in mind that the players at his disposal simply weren’t capable of working with, and a defence that was a shambles throughout. Not to suggest that he is perfect by any means, but he is better than the fallout from this will suggest.