June 30, 2018, Day Seventeen
Futbol Papa’s World Cup 2018 Diary covered the first matches of the cup’s knockout round. Argentina and France met in the first match and we were treated to one of the better matches of the tournament. France pulled ahead via a penalty called for a foul on the box on Kylian Mbappe which Antoine Griezmann converted. Argentina came back when an amateurish mistake by the French defense left Angel di Maria alone, 30 yards from goal with an open shot on his left foot. The beauty of a shot hit side netting giving Hugo Lloris no chance.
Three minutes after the second half began, we were treated to the first Lionel Messi intervention when his turnaround shot in the box bounced off Gabriel Mercado and wrong-footed Lloris for the Argentine go-ahead goal. But nine minutes later Benjamin Pavard went Nacho one better with a longer, tougher, volley to the keeper’s right-side netting from a more acute angle, just outside the box, for the equalizer.
Throughout the game, though, one thing seemed clear, France was in control at all times and Argentina were still trying to find a way to play that worked for them. Paul Pogba was masterful as the dominant midfielder of the game, Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti were simply a wall on defense, and N’Golo Kante, Blaise Matuidi and Griezmann provided the cool-headed possessions necessary to make the Argentines chase their tails for most of the game.
The typical Argentine unsportsmanlike shenanigans abounded in this match too with Javier Mascherano getting an early yellow for a studs-up slide in the center circle, Nicolas Otamendi getting away with slamming a ball onto Pogba when he lay on the ground after a second consecutive foul Mascherano (not earning a yellow) had brought him down, and Mercado (getting away with a slap at a French player by the sidelines). But the younger French mostly kept their cool and simply outplayed their opponents.
Then we were treated to the continuing Mbappe show as the nineteen-year-old striker took over. He sped past all comers to score the go-ahead goal at the 64th and then, completed a picture-perfect counter attack by slashing the ball across the box to the far corner of the goal at the 68th minute for the fourth French goal.
With the score at 4-2, Messi would have one more intervention as his perfect cross over a defender and onto substitute Kun Aguero’s head made for a beautiful headed goal at the 90+3 of what ended up being nearly six minutes of added time gifted the Argentines to enable their come back. But it would not be, and as the final score stood at 4—3 one got the feeling it was a deserved changing of the guard as last cup’s finalists were dethroned by an up and coming generation of French stars. As Papa predicted earlier, France ended Messi’s World Cup 2018 dream.
Portugal and Uruguay met in the other Group of 16 match of the day, and two nice goals from Edinson Cavani, a header at the far post and an unmarked easy put away from the far side of the box, sealed the deal for Uruguay on either side of a Pepe headed goal for Portugal. But that was not the story of this game.
Unfortunately, Mexican referee Cesar Arturo Ramos Palazuelos decided to take center stage instead of allowing two good teams decide the outcome of the match. If FIFA provides him another chance to officiate a key game we are witnessing another farce of a tournament!
In the space of 90+5—which given Uruguay’s tactics should have been at least 90+10, or as long as Germany and Argentina got to rescue their World Cups—Palazuelos managed to “miss” ninety percent of the South American’s professional fouls, the ones where the first defender puts his hand on your hips to push you out of step and the next challenger takes advantage that you are off balance to knock you down. Or the defender pushes you before the ball arrives or after it’s been cleared. Or the ones where the guy’s on the ground and in a faked attempt to do anything else still manages to punch the ball to his teammate while drawing the foul in his favor. Yeah, those types of constant fouls went uncalled.
How about Suarez’s act that he was hit in the head when challenging for a head ball. Only replays show that the contact that did take place was not a foul, which is why it was not called, but that the contact was with Suarez’s back. Where was VAR? The Uruguayan got to waste two full minutes on a clearly non-existent injury. Don’t we have a rule on faking it or is it only Neymar who gets called on those?
Then, when was the last time a referee set up shop at the 20-25 yard line on the preferred shooting side of say, Lionel Messi as he runs (always) from right side of the box to the left? Answer: never! But there Palazuelos was, running into anyone on left side the box where a right footed long-range shooter might have wanted to set up. Anyone know a good right footed long-range shooter on Portugal? Yup, the same guy who scored from that distance twice this cup already. Oh, well!!
Then came the disgraceful yellow for CR7. We all saw him arguing with the ref, but then again didn’t Luis Suarez, and Diego Godin, and Cavani, do the same thing repeatedly. One might even think the ref simply didn’t want CR7 to progress regardless of what his team accomplished.
In the end the 2—1 score line was unfair and yet a clear indication of each team’s limitations and the efficiency of their strategies. Uruguay kept Ronaldo under wraps, Portugal allowed Cavani and Suarez to run rampant. On both goals, goalkeeper Rui Patricio was caught wrong footed, and it was his own doing as each pass that led to a score went from one side of the box to the other, giving ample time to set up. On the second goal, Cavani was so open it reminded one of the naivete of the di Maria goal against France. What were the Portuguese thinking?
By days end France earned their win and convinced with their play. Uruguay will have to do something radically different when these two teams meet in the quarter finals to have any hope of progressing.
Futbol Papa’s World Cup 2018 Diary today chronicled Lionel Messi’s and Cristiano Ronaldo’s exits from the World Cup. The former with but a whimper but a golazo to remember, the latter with a couple of masterful performances, one great free-kick goal, and a resounding verification. Nothing highlights the officiating largesse the diminutive Argentine has benefited from his entire career like witnessing the manner in which he was protected all tournament long. On the other side of that coin is the indifference with which Ronaldo, Neymar, and even Mbappe are treated. The rest of the world’s best can be fouled mercilessly, only Messi gets special protection. In the end both stars were tripped up by teams overly dependent upon them when facing more balanced opposition, and in France’s case better quality to boot.
Futbol Papa’s World Cup 2018 Diary found that Marcelo and Douglas Costa will not be ready to play their full roles in Brazil’s match against Mexico on Monday. Meanwhile the Mexican fans caused so much disturbance after their team’s 3-0 loss to Sweden that FIFA actually fined the Mexican federation $15,000.
With VAR being so poorly used in its inaugural World Cup Papa will keep track of the manner in which infractions and unsportsmanlike acts decide games throughout the cup. Today, VAR would have been helpful in awarding red cards to Javier Mascherano (double yellow) and Nicolas Otamendi (straight red for blasting a ball point blank, form about a yard away, at Paul Pogba who was on the ground due to the double foul that cut him down, committed by Mascerano).
Similarly, it would have been interesting to see exactly how many professional fouls by the South Americans the Mexican referee missed in the Portugal v Uruguay game. Also, why did Ronaldo get a yellow (captain arguing for a foul) and not Suarez (faking a head injury for a clear contact on his back). Why did we hear that the hand-in-the-box Portugal argued for late in the game went to a VAR review but somehow we never got to see the replay?
Futbol Papa’s World Cup 2018 Diary will continue to keep tabs on the tournament’s scorers to see if the initial goal scoring tendency continues, as so far, of the 123 goals actually scored in the cup (9 more have been own goals for a total of 132 tallies) 26% (32) have been converted by La Liga players while 20% (24) have been scored by Premiership stars. The remaining 50% have been scored by all other leagues combined.
On Sunday, Spain plays Russia and Croatia plays Denmark.
Futbol Papa’s World Cup 2018 Diary Predictions
Fifty games played. 59% correct calls
Right calls–(29)—Correctly called 28 group stage matches and one of two Round of 16 matches.
Papa made an “push (no call)” on the Iceland-Nigeria game, but called it for Iceland after the cup began, so this prediction is not credited as right or wrong (1).
Wrong calls–(18)—Incorrectly called 17 group stage matches and one Round of 16 match.
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