GAMES 49 & 50


France 4 – 3 Argentina

Don’t cry 4-3 Argentina
Everyone on Twitter, yesterday

It’s quite normal for the knockout games to mark a notable step-up of pace, but Kylian Mbappe took this to a whole new level. The French teenager made parts of this game look like an athletics meeting, opening up space with a powerful turn of speed that made the Argentinian team seem to be standing still.

And from standing starts to outstanding stats: he’s the first teenager to score more than once in a tournament since Michael Owen in 1998; the first teenager to score two goals in the same game since Pele in 1958; the quickest player of the tournament so far… Mbappe was clocked going at 38km/h against the Argentinian defence. The fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt, runs at 44.7km/h. Just let that sink in for a moment.

While a touch can buy Messi the split second he needs to slink past a player, he’s conjuring something, creating space. Mbappe, meanwhile, performs a disappearing act. He’s simply not where the defence, or the audience, expects him to be, having received the ball, knocked it on and sprinted past before we can process the images.

After the astonishing, breakneck turn of pace that led to France’s penalty and first goal, things, one felt, could have been fairly straightforward. However, though a vastly improved French performance since their turgid tramp through the groups, they sat back for a while and allowed Argentina a way in – a worry they’ll need to address in the quarter finals. Indeed, while they were busy looking out for Messi, they would have been much better off trying to work out how to solve a problem like Di Maria, whose goal must be a contender for best of the tournament.

Argentina’s second was less clear-cut, Messi’s turning strike from just inside the area taking a deflection on its way to the back of the net. Although Argentina were ahead, it never really felt it would stay that way. And, of course, it didn’t. Another wonder strike, this time from Benjamin Pavard carved through the defence, hit the net and quite possibly punched a hole in the fabric of space time – which would account for the lost moments between the entire TV-watching world seeing the strike and collectively mouthing, “Jesus Christ!” If he’d been as reliable in his day job as full-back, this would have been a much clearer rout.  

Mbappe’s superb brace, scored within four minutes, seemed to wrap things up eloquently enough – Messi knocked out by the player most likely to take his mantel as France showed they can carve teams apart with a speed and efficiency normally reserved for military rebukes. However, Aguero’s (very) late goal gave a glimmer of hope that kept things alive til the last. In the end, the referee’s whistle signalled Argentina’s exit – the right result all told – but I do hope Maradona sticks around for a while, especially now he seems to have gone all Celebrity Love Island on us with his public displays of affection. 



Uruguay 2 – 1 Portugal

Following the best game of the tournament so far, what could Uruguay and Portugal bring to the table? The answer came in the form of Suarez and Cavani, whose pairing, as early on as seven minutes, resulted in an audacious, pitch-wide one-two and a goal that, while lacking the direct, jackhammer booted delivery of many we saw yesterday was, perhaps, better than any of them.

Cavani, in particular, gave a performance that was as much rooted in heart and workrate as it was clever timing and goals. The people at EA Sports were clearly watching, as his rating in the FIFA World Cup video game has just soared to 92 overnight. His second, the winner, was also beautifully taken, a ball rolled out to him which he struck on the very edge of the box, shaping his body perfectly to steer it past the hapless keeper.

It is worth mentioning that this was the only shot they had on target in the whole of the second half – a period of play that saw their possession dip to just 30%. One shot, one goal. It felt a little like an assassination.

Given Uruguay’s reputation for being a team not afraid to let the opposition “know they’re there”, this was a surprisingly well-mannered affair. This seemed to reach peak, “wait, WHAT?” as Ronaldo helped an injured Cavani off the pitch. I think it sensible to remember, before applauding this beautiful and touching moment, that Ronaldo was probably just keeping any potential time wasting to a minimum.

Cavani’s injury presents a potential problem for Uruguay going forward (pun intended). His frustrated tears at the end of the game suggested that it could be touch and go for a quarter-final appearance.

As for Portugal, well… on the occasions they did manage to best line holders Godin and Jose Gimenez, they were punished by profligacy. Pepe’s header may have seen them draw level, but as the camera focused on his little, pinched face, the overweening contortions and smug glints of a spoilt child, I remembered his dive against Morocco. I remembered that moment and I thought to myself, “Christ I hope they fucking lose”.