Knock-out football began in Russia with a seven-goal thriller as France edged out Argentina 4-3 in the Kazan Arena. A brace from Kylian Mbappe along with goals from Antoine Griezmann and Benjamin Pavard sent the French onto the quarter-finals.
If there was a roof on the Kazan Arena, the national anthems would’ve blown it off. It would be a shame for this competition to not hear ‘La Marseillaise’ or the booming rendition of the Argentine anthem again, but there was to be a loser.
France started the sharper and when Antoine Griezmann’s free-kick bounced off the bar inside ten minutes, the South Americans were warned.
But, in Kylian Mbappe, the French have a born superstar at just 19 years old. He looked determined, menacing and on 13 minutes was dynamite. A 70 odd yard run sent Marcos Rojo into panic mode and he sent the forward flying, penalty.
Griezmann rolled it down the middle and it was advantage ‘Les Bleus’.
Despite Argentina controlling the lion-share of possession, it was the darker shade of blue that were on top. Paul Pogba was the midfield enforcer we all know he can be, shielding the threat of Lionel Messi and spraying balls up to Mbappe and Griezmann.
Just as half-time was approaching, the prayers from fans in blue and white were answered. With them, came an Angel. Angel Di Maria took aim from 25 yards and found the top corner with a wonder strike, all square at half-time.
Out came a rejuvenated Argentina in the second half, Di Maria was lifted by his goal and won a free-kick after good play down the wing. Messi retrieved a lose ball and his cross-come-shot was diverted in by Gabriel Mercardo, unbelievable turn-around in Kazan.
How do France recover? Well Benjamin Pavard saw Di Maria’s goal and raised him a superbly hit shot that swerved into the top corner, this is when Didier Deschamps’ men showed what everyone knew they had in their locker.
Especially, Mbappe in four minutes he sucked the hope out of Argentina. On 64 minutes he collected a bouncing a ball, sent Nicolas Otamendi sliding and drilled it underneath Armani. By 68 minutes, he really had stolen the show, Pogba typically powerful found Olivier Giroud who sent Mbappe clear and it was 4-2.
As the game dragged on, it became desperate for Argentina, but the quality never waivers from Messi. On the right wing, he sent over a cross and Sergio Aguero powered home a header in the 93rd minute, too late surely?
It was, unfortunately for the great talisman of Argentina, France prevailed and now await the winner of Uruguay vs Portugal tonight. As one of the world’s greatest leaves Russia and possibly international football, Kazan was the stage where a forward still in his teens made his mark on the world.