France - Argentina 4-3
Uruguay - Portugal 2-1
So here I am, in the avant-garde, after the picture on my post yesterday got replicated in various forms AFTER the games that sealed the return home of the two most over-hyped footballers of our time (yeah, sorry Neymar).
But my God, what games! If these two are an indication of what the knock-out rounds are going to be like, this might be arguably the most spectacular World Cup I have seen.
Due to work constraints I could only watch the first half of France-Argentina. As in, the one with 2 out of 7 goals, one of them penalty. But as anticipated, France always looked like the better team. What I had no idea about was Mbappe. I mean, sure, people say he's a great player but wow! That pace, strength and vision, unstoppable. That 60 yards sprint to get the first penalty was out of this world. So was, if I'm honest, Di Maria's goal, but while France did show a clear game plan, it is just as clear that Sampaoli is in over his head, with not much of a technique to his managing than 'give it to Messi'. Oh, by the way, did you notice Messi played yesterday?
Oh, sorry, I'm being mean. There was no way you couldn't have noticed. After all, it's all the cameras were pointing at. And of course, the endless chorus of 'But the goal against Nigeria...' is bound to start every time you point out that the greatest players of the game are expected to perform on the greatest stages, and that Maradona will always have this:
|Pictured: not Messi|
While I had little doubt about France, Uruguay - Portugal was a much closer call. Portugal is a good team, full of flair and playing spectacularly and maybe deserving of better results throughout the three group games. Uruguay have somewhat dragged their feet throughout an otherwise easy group, but always in control, never in danger of not qualifying. It looks like somehow they did just enough to win, but it was obvious there's more in the tank. Similar to France, in a way, except when they saw Ronaldo in front of their eyes, Cavani and co wasted no time and went straight at it. The first goal is a real masterpiece. Not only the final execution, brilliant as it was, but the whole build-up, with two crosses over the whole width of the pitch, both of them absolutely pin-pointed. The Portugese defense was absolutely stunned by the precision of Suarez's ball, that's why Cavani was completely undistrurbed. Hell, so beautiful is this Uruguayan team, even Suarez looks like a nice guy in a blue shirt.
Credit to Portugal, they did contribute to making it a good game, and they had a fair bit of the initiative coming out for the second half, which materialized in the equalizer after 10 minutes. Like Argentina, Portugal do seem to be over-reliant on the star player, but unlike Argentina, Fernando Santos has also put some back-up plans in place. Not enough to outsmart Tabarez, who might not be able to walk properly, but has a very functional football brain. As soon as they were equalized, Uruguay got back into pressuring the Portugese and they got back in the lead, and in control of the game just like in the first half, after 7 minutes of play. Another beautiful Cavani execution, this time an individual effort with a trajectory drawn as beautiful as a renaissance painting.
The last minutes of the game looked a bit like the final rounds of a heavyweight boxing bout, with both teams dropping the guard and looking for the finishing punch. Portugal was the more desperate, obviously, so Uruguay had to absorb some of the pressure, but their counter-attacking was as dangerous as the bite of a venomous snake. Rui Patricio, the Portugese keeper, played as a second striker for the last few minutes of the game, and Quaresma ran his heart off, which is a bit ironic when you realize how out of habit it is. Still, not enough to yield anything material, so it is the good South American team that advances to the quarter-finals.
Uruguay - France? Too tough to call, but it's a finger-licking game for the neutrals.