1998 champions France will kick start the second round of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia when they face fortunate qualifier Argentina at the Kazan Arena on Saturday. The French side topped Group C with seven points while the Seleçion overcame a turbulent group stage campaign to emerge second in group D behind Croatia.
Friday was observed as rest day in the competition upon the completion of group stage games on Thursday. The two former World Cup winners are expected to set the tone for what should be a fascinating round of the competition.
As expected, much of the talk about the game have centred on Argentine superstar Lionel Messi and France manager Didier Deschamps; while noting that their opponents are not just about Messi, hopes his team will keep him in check.
“The Argentines are not built on Messi alone, even if the number of goals he has scored for the national team shows that he has had a great impact in the team.
“Depending on where he (Messi) is on the pitch, we will try and limit his impact.”
“It is an advantage to have defenders playing in the Spanish league to play against Messi and I hope to be able to count on that after tomorrow’s game,” said the 1998 World Cup winning captain.
“We have a young team in France. It is not an excuse, it is the reality. But we will try to be competitive against Argentina,” Deschamps added.
When Argentina defeated Nigeria in St Petersburg last Tuesday, about 80% of the stands were dominated by the white and blue colours of the South Americans. France captain Hugo Lloris is not oblivious of this.
The Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper also believes Argentina’s difficult group phase will make them a more difficult opposition, based on their expectations.
“Argentina are a team with great players and many fans at the stadium because they always support their team wherever they go.
“There are a lot of expectations around Messi and Argentina that I think it is normal to talk about Messi.
“But still, the Argentina team have HugoBenjaminMoscow,more to show because they have had a difficult time yet were able to qualify and I’m sure they will feel like going further in the competition. They had won the World Cup in the past. I believe this is going to be a big match, difficult one and we will have to step up our game to win,” added Lloris.
France will be without left back Benjamin Mendy for the game against Argentina which kicks off at 5pm local time (3pm in Nigeria). The day’s other round of sixteen game will hold between Uruguay and Portugal in Sochi.
Fisayo Dairo reporting from Moscow