World Cup 2018: Day 17 and 18 at a glance
France’s mouthwatering clash with Argentina signals the start of the knockout stages
Paul Pogba’s France take on Argentina on Saturday. Photograph: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty
Saturday June 30th
France v Argentina (Kazan, 3.0pm, RTÉ2/BBC). Betting: France 29-20, Argentina 5-2, Draw 2-1
Uruguay v Portugal (Sochi, 7.0pm, RTÉ2/ITV). Betting: Uruguay 15-8, Portugal 2-1, Draw 19-10
Sunday July 1st
ONE TO WATCH
“I’m with my family here,” Paul Pogba told a press conference ahead of France’s last-16 clash with Argentina - the opening knockout clash of the 2018 World Cup. Pogba is a vital cog in the French machine - both on and off the pitch - and his commitment to the national set-up is impossible to doubt.
However the Manchester United midfielder is also a player who polarises opinion unlike any other. Some people believe he’s a world beater - others just don’t ‘get’ him. At the moment, both viewpoints are perhaps understandable. Pogba’s talent is unquestionable, but he is yet to take a grip of fixtures on a regular basis. Some also find it difficult to separate Pogba the footballer and Pogba the person - as though his regularly changing hairstyles have a direct impact on his on-field performances.
Saturday’s last-16 fixture in Kazan is the perfect opportunity for the 25-year-old to silence his critics, with a poor Argentinean midfield looking to be there for the taking. “I’ve got the right to dance. When I dance and we win, there’s no problem,” Pogba said on Friday. “If we lose, it becomes a problem. They say I’m a showman, but you have to take me as I am. I’ll always smile, whether I’m being criticised or praised.” There will be plenty of praise to go with the smile if France win on Saturday.
In a very open World Cup Spain remain one of the front-runners to win the tournament - particularly after they were landed in the supposedly easier side of the draw by virtue of winning Group B. Their 3-3 draw with Portugal in their opening fixture remains one of the games of the World Cup, and they have played - in glimpses - the best football on show in Russia.
However one criticism of La Roja is that they have been too slow and ponderous in possession, with opposition sides able to sit in and frustrate them - their narrow 1-0 win over Iran being a perfect example. With Diego Costa leading the line they have often been reliant on Isco to provide an injection of pace - and Sunday’s last-16 clash with Russia could be the perfect opportunity for Fernando Hierro to let Marco Asensio off his leash. The Real Madrid prodigy has been limited to two substitute appearances against Iran and Morocco thus far this summer, but he can freshen up the Spanish side for the knockouts. The 22-year-old can play wide or behind the striker and scores some spectacular goals with his wand of a left-foot. Seen by many as the next superstar of Spanish football, there is still time for this to be his breakout tournament with the national side.
DID YOU KNOW?
Artists in Kazan have had to get busy after Argentina qualified for the last-16, where they will take on France. According to Reuters the host city currently boasts a giant portrait of Cristiano Ronaldo, which was painted on a building behind the Ramada Hotel to welcome the Real Madrid star when Portugal played there during in the 2017 Confederations Cup. Naturally, it later transpired Argentina would be staying in the same hotel.
So, in order to prevent Lionel Messi getting in a strop when he looks out of his bedroom window - and to remain neutral in the eternal debate of which player is better - the city have now commissioned a smaller Messi-mural. Surprisingly, it isn’t a picture of a goat.