Scaloni and Deschamps advance in World Cup 2022
Today with Argentina v Denmark and France v Mexico, we continue analyzing and predicting the eight Round of 16 matches of World Cup 2022.
If you have followed Papa’s analyses and predictions, you will note that the sixteen teams chosen to progress from the Group Stage are paired up as follows: Group A-1—Holland plays Group B-2—England, and A-2—Senegal plays B-1—USA; then Group C-1—Argentina plays Group D-2—Denmark, and C-2—Mexico plays D-1—France; then Group E-1—Germany plays Group F-2—Belgium, and E-2—Costa Rica plays F-1—Croatia; then Group G-1—Brazil plays Group H-2—Uruguay, and finally G-2—Serbia plays H-1—Portugal.
Argentina v Denmark
The Argentines know this is a winnable game and after having squeaked through their group they are unwilling to leave anything to chance. Coach Scaloni has his first string ready to go, has replaced Giovani Lo Celso with Guido Rodriquez, and is seeing in practice that his choice is a perfect fit. To counter the Danes’ physicality Scaloni doesn’t need to tell his men to tackle for keeps—they already lean that way.
The Danes are anxious about this game as they know they do not match up as well against the South Americans as they do against many European opponents. Controlling possession is going to be the key to the game and Coach Kasper Hjulmand settles for a 3-4-2-1 that seems the ideal lineup for the job.
The collective is Denmark’s strength, but they also have speedy strikers, great wingbacks, and a very in-form Christian Eriksen. Their midfield is mostly defensive, but their wingbacks are mostly offensive while not being bad defenders. It is the solid three-man defense that allows the two wide men to mostly relinquish their defensive duties and other than Eriksen they are the keys to Denmark’s success.
The Danish coach has decided that clogging the midfield while counting on Christensen-Delaney-Mahle to handle Messi’s side and Hojbjerg-Kristensen-Andersen to handle di Maria’s side is the way to go as it also leaves the middle for Lautaro Martinez to challenge Kjaer, which is not a bad matchup for the Danes.
Argentina is aware that man for man the Danes are stronger physically and mostly speedier, so they are already planning on a tough-tackling middle-of-the-field system which has as its objective clogging Eriksen’s side, while the four-man defensive line is looking to soften the young strikers playing wide alongside Eriksen. The two questions are will the Albicelestes three-man midfield suffice to both blunt the center of the pitch and counter the expected, speedy wing attacks, and will their experienced but mostly slower defenders cope with the younger and speedier Dolberg and Skov Olsen?
The game begins slowly as the opponents are aware of the other’s strengths and take them seriously. Messi probes his side and finds himself triple-teamed and di Maria does the same and is quickly subdued. Probing down the middle proves fruitless as well because the Danish defense is too experienced.
The Danes, realizing Argentina is pressing high, take a few long balls down the wings and create a little havoc and follow up with a few wingback-led attacks, but they all only serve, mostly, for the Argentines to fine-tune who can move further up and who needs to lie back to keep up with the Danes’ pace.
Halfway through the first half di Maria breaks away from two markers and crosses to Martinez who volleys a beauty into the roof of the net. The Argentines are giddy at their lead but also telling each other to be cautious as Scaloni keeps yelling at them to keep their heads in the match. Eriksen wins a dangerous free kick about nine minutes later and chips a perfect cross to Dolberg who out-jumps Otamendi to level the sides with a pretty header.
Now realizing each can do the other harm quickly if not easily the match turns up a notch and both keepers are called upon to maintain the scoreboard even. The teams go into the locker rooms knowing they have it all to do when they return. Fans and viewers alike marvel at the officiating team’s control of the action as only a couple of yellows have been handed out per side and the first two were early enough to convince both teams physicality will have its limits clearly set.
The second half becomes one of the best-played of the cup and the contrast in styles reminds everyone why each continental flavor actually complements the other. After Messi pulls the South Americans ahead in the first few minutes of the second half it takes the Danes another ten minutes to hit the woodwork. But the score remains in Argentina’s favor until deep into stoppage time when, off a corner, substitute Andreas Cornelius heads in the tying score over substitute German Pezzella brought in to replace the exhausted Otamendi. The whistle for the end of the second half blows before either team can muster a real attack.
The ensuing first extra time period is a stalemate, but the second opens up with a Scaloni surprise as he pulls Martinez out, places his team in a 4-3-1-2 with Messi behind substitutes Paulo Dybala and Angel Correa on the wings, one replacing the depleted di Maria. Both coaches are already preparing their penalty takers’ list when the small but speedy Argentine dribblers begin to exert their influence out wide. In the 117th minute, off a pretty Messi feed to Dybala on the wing, the Roma striker gets past his marker and places an inch-perfect feed to Correa who slides ahead of Kjaer to nod the ball past a sprawling Schmeichel for the last-gasp win.
France v Mexico
France is flying high feeling their Group Stage was better than others might believe. They enter the match against Mexico certain that this is their lucky bye match and yet they do not rest their starters as Deschamps is wary it will be a relative minnow that can trip Les Bleus up.
Deschamps chooses Guendouzi and Rabiot over their younger brethren and keeps Theo Hernandez and Kingsley Coman out wide in what he feels will be a strong holding midfield with potential offense down the wings to complement Mbappe, Benzema, and Giroud, who he deploys over Griezmann to take advantage of the former’s height against the shorter Mexicans.
Mexican coach, Tata Martino, has reached the fourth game with Mexico and is looking toward the fifth as if the French were not in front of him and decides to go offensive on the defensive Europeans. He thinks that the way to beat France is to disrespect their pedigree, not by showing actual disrespect but by attacking them instead of fearing them.
Keeping Guardado and Herrera fresh with timely substitutions he now asks them to play mostly as holding midfielders to bear down early on Benz and Kylian in hopes of short-circuiting their forays, while also allowing Alvarez to move a bit forward to hook up with what is beginning to look like a clicking offense with Vega, Jimenez, and Lozano—the 4-3-3 has morphed into a 4-2-1-3 with the two veteran midfielders tasked with a lot of heavy lifting.
Deschamps knows the French are lucky that they have their expected Round of 16 rendezvous with Mexico since despite feeling good about their Group Stage performance the coach knows his team is sorely missing Kante and Pogba and that Varane is not yet himself. He is playing it cautiously against Martino and is quickly surprised by the Argentine’s tactics with his Mexican charges.
But the French are perfectly set up to defend against an offensive-leaning lineup and as the game begins it is obvious it will take more out of the Mexicans to launch a proper challenge to the European’s back line. Their encouragement on that count makes France go out on attack themselves and a quick Benzema-Mbappe counter leaves Ochoa grasping at air as Kylian takes the overall tourney’s scoring lead with the game’s opening goal.
The Mexicans are fuming as they felt the French striker was offside despite the VAR replays showing the opposite, but they march on and make life difficult for their opponents for the remainder of the half, yet do not score themselves.
The second half sees the same lineups on both sides but a much higher level of intensity from each. At the 60-minute mark, a pretty Benzema play sends Mbappe down the wing for what becomes a perfect cross which Giroud turns into their second score. The Mexicans are crestfallen but still have some fight left in them and they pull one back when Lozano sets Vega up and the talented striker gets past his marker and once in the box slots low beyond Lloris’ outstretched body.
With the score 2-1 in France’s favor, the Mexicans make the mistake of moving their lines too far up in search of that tying score and the acres of pitch behind their line is what Mbappe was born to exploit. Rabiot sees his teammate cutting a diagonal that will put him behind the Mexican’s last defender and on a beeline to a one-on-one with Ochoa and his pass is picture-perfect. Mbappe latches on to the pass, outruns everyone, and gets around the Mexican keeper for the put-away goal.
The Mexicans leave the pitch carrying the curse of the fifth match to yet another cup but hoping 2026, at home, breaks the jinx. The French knew they would win and revel in their victory as Mbappe goes two clear on the Golden Boot race. Deschamps thinks it is all down to his defensive tactics and is sure the next match will require another special dose of that perspective.
But the French seem unaware that a relatively easy group and an easier Round of 16 opponent back-to-back do not a World Cup rout make, and the fates set about to put them in their place by weaving their next tragedy out of white, red, and bleus.
Illustration: Flags of Argentina and France, Shutterstock ID: 218312155, by SLdesign