By 90Min
June 29, 2018

The knockout stages of the 2018 World Cup will kick off with an explosion of supernova proportions, as two of the tournament's stratospheric names go head to head for a place in the quarter finals.

Neither side have really got out of first gear so far; France did just enough to get by in their group, while Argentina scraped through by the skin of their teeth after staring down the barrel of elimination.

Both sides have shown flashes of what they're capable of throughout their games, however, and are well capable of scoring goals, so something's got to give here.


Current Form

So far, neither side has really impressed on the level you would expect. 

France qualified relatively comfortably, doing just enough to get past Australia and Peru before fielding a weakened side to draw with Denmark. They've been OK, and given the fact that virtually every other big team has been on the same boat so far - in terms of struggling to hit their expected early heights - they look in good shape. They will, however, need to start finding their form soon, or they will be caught out by the quality Argentina possess.

Their opponents, on the other hand, did not start the tournament well at all, drawing with Iceland before being torn apart by Croatia, prompting reports that the players would pick the team for their final group match after a major fallout with manager Jorge Sampaoli.

They upped their game substantially for their final match against Nigeria, changing their shape and finally being able to get a big performance from the talismanic Lionel Messi to edge out their qualification rivals 2-1; thus qualifying for the last 16, and sparking wild celebrations in the Argentina camp.

Whether this was the sign of changed fortunes, or just paper over the cracks of a fractured, troubled Argentina camp, remains to be seen. A big performance against France, though, would surely reinstil them as one of the tournament favourites.


World Cup Highlights

This is a clash between two of the tournament's historical heavyweights, having won the World Cup three times between them.

Argentina have two of these to their name, winning in 1978 and then again in 1986 during a golden period for the nation. The latter was  arguably the most famous, as a Diego Maradona double inspired them to a 3-2 win over West Germany in what is - even today - thought to be one of the greatest World Cup finals ever.

GABRIEL BOUYS/GettyImages

France's only World Cup success came in 1998, on home turf, as Zinedine Zidane turned in a magical showing in Paris to brush aside the mighty Brazil 3-0 and lift the iconic trophy. 


Team News

France have one injury doubt in Samuel Umtiti, but we should expect to see a vastly changed team from the second string lineup that started against Denmark, with Hugo Lloris, Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe expected to return to action. We could also see a first World Cup start for first choice left back Benjamin Mendy, who returned from injury with a substitute appearance against Denmark.

Argentina have no injury concerns, and aren't expected to make many changes to the XI that beat Nigeria, as they finally found their flow at least in the first half.


Predicted Lineups

France (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Pavard, Varane, Kimpembe, Mendy; Pogba, Kante; Mbappe, Griezmann, Lemar; Giroud

Argentina (4-3-3): Armani; Mercado, Otamendi, Rojo, Tagliafico; Banega, Mascherano, Meza; Messi, Higuain, Di Maria


Prediction

France have to go in as favorites, despite Argentina's very recent revival. They've looked stronger, more consistent, and more likely to get it done under pressure. If Argentina show up, and can get anything near the best out of Messi then they have a good chance, of course, but the balance of probabilities suggests France by a hair.

Prediction: France 3-2 Argentina

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