England squeak, France breeze in World Cup 2022
Today with England v Argentina and Senegal v France, we analyze and predict the first two quarterfinals matches of World Cup 2022.
If you have followed Papa’s analyses and predictions, you will note that the eight teams chosen to progress from the Round of 16 are paired up as follows: England v Argentina, Senegal v France, Croatia v Portugal, and Brazil v Belgium.
Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope, Aaron Ramsdale. Defenders: Harry Maguire, John Stones, Kyle Walker, Luke Shaw, Kieran Trippier , Trent Alexander-Arnold, Eric Dier, Conor Coady, Ben White. Midfielders: Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham, Jordan Henderson, Mason Mount, Kalvin Phillips, James Maddison, Conor Gallagher. Forwards: Harry Kane, Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, Jack Grealish, Callum Wilson.
Goalkeepers: Emiliano Martínez, Gerónimo Rulli. Franco Armani. Defenders: Nahuel Molina, Gonzalo Montiel, Cristian Romero, Germán Pezzella, Nicolás Otamendi, Lisandro Martínez, Marcos Acuña, Nicolás Tagliafico, Juan Foyth Midfielders: Rodrigo De Paul, Leandro Paredes, Alexis MacAllister, Guido Rodríguez, Alejandro Gómez, Enzo Fernández, Exequiel Palacios Forwards: Ángel Di María, Lautaro Martínez, Julián Álvarez, Nicolás González, Joaquín Correa, Paulo Dybala, Lionel Messi
Goalkeepers: Edouard Mendy, Alfred Gomis, Seny Diang. Defenders: Bouna Sarr, Saliou Ciss, Kalidou Koulibaly, Pape Abou Cisse, Abdou Diallo, Ibrahima Mbaye, Abdoulaye Seck, Fode Ballo Toure, Cheikhou Kouyate. Midfielders: Pape Matar Sarr, Pape Gueye, Nampalys Mendy, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Moustapha Name, M. Loum Ndiaye, Joseph Lopy. Forwards: Sadio Mane, Ismaila Sarr, Bamba Dieng, Keita Balde, Habib Diallo, Boulaye Dia, Famara Diedhiou, Mame Babe Thiam
Goalkeepers: Alphonse Areola, Hugo Lloris, Steve Mandanda Defenders: Lucas Hernandez, Theo Hernandez, Axel Disasi, Ibrahima Konate, Jules Kounde, Benjamin Pavard, William Saliba, Dayot Upamecano, Raphael Varane Midfielders: Eduardo Camavinga, Youssouf Fofana, Matteo Guendouzi, Adrien Rabiot, Aurelien Tchouameni, Jordan Veretout Forwards: Karim Benzema, Kingsley Coman, Marcus Thuram, Ousmane Dembele, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Christopher Nkunku
The English left group play on a high and believe they have their mojo back, but just as importantly Southgate feels confident in his ability to strategize a winning formula against any of the remaining teams in the quarterfinals. He knows all of the European teams, is familiar with the Senegalese stars who play in Europe, and has been secretly studying the two South American giants in hopes that if he reaches the deepest waters of the tourney, he will have the plan to play even them.
Argentina v England has many memories for fans of both teams, from the 1966 “Theft of the Century” to the 1986 “Hand of God incident,” to the 1998 2-2 draw which Argentina won 4-3 on penalties after Diego Simeone goaded David Beckham into a red card violation, to the 2002 Beckham penalty score in the Brits’ 1-0 win. There are no illusions of gentlemanly and sporting respect, only an adversarial relationship that can and has often become antagonistic.
The Argentines are a bit unsure of themselves but only feel it, never admit it to others let alone to themselves when assembled to discuss the upcoming match. The group stage did not go as planned despite their top billing in progression and Messi will likely be unhappy with any Scaloni setup that does not feature directly attacking their opponents. Messi and company feel they are better than the Brits and can beat them if all of their team can stick to the right strategy. The Lionels will have a meeting of the minds and an acceptable approach will be reached and prepared for before match day.
England will opt for a 3-5-2 with a twist, they will sacrifice a midfielder to a one-on-one full-pitch, press-marking of Messi—not to foul him but to prevent him from getting the ball in the first place. For that onerous task, they bring in substitute Jordan Henderson. They start with Pickford, Maguire, Stones, and Walker in defense, then in midfield they use the roaming Henderson and Shaw, Bellingham, Rice, and Gallagher, and in attack, they use Kane and Sterling. The idea is to get a quick counter or a set play score and hold on, then substitute Saka for Sterling in the second half to keep their counterattacking speedster fresh.
In the end, the Lionels see no need to modify what they have felt comfortable with in winning the Copa America 2021 and getting through the group stage a 4-3-3. They start with Martinez, Acuna, Otamendi, Romero, and Molina in defense, a midfield with Palacios, Paredes, and de Paul (now known as the 3Ps), and an attack with Messi, Lautaro Martinez, and di Maria. Scaloni is not aware of Southgate’s Henderson ploy and will have to counter it on the fly if he feels it is necessary. But a two-man attack will seem a gift allowing the Argentines to press forward with their wingbacks.
The game begins slowly as it takes each team time to figure out the other’s intent. Not that England misunderstands Argentina have not done anything strategically special for the match but that they want to see how the Albiceleste will counter Henderson. Argentina, grasping the tactic of the Henderson ploy, but seeing it as an irritant more than anything else, take turns using their physical midfield, and occasionally their wingbacks, to pick for Messi, getting him occasionally free on the wings but rarely in the middle.
We are halfway through the first half before the teams have settled into a rhythm and curiously it is simply an acceptance of each other’s intent as if both sides are happy with what they are doing and unphased by what their opponents propose. But it is the Brits who have the psychological upper hand as it is taking the Argentines time and effort simply to get Messi possession. And it is within that context that Kane gets fouled by Otamendi in a dangerous spot and the ensuing Shaw cross finds the two men pitted against each other again, and this time Kane outleaps the Argentine and heads England ahead.
The lead lasts single-digit minutes.
And it is at this moment that Messi channels Maradona, but the dribbler, not the handler, delivers the goal of the tournament. De Paul picks Henderson to allow Messi to receive the ball thirty-five yards out and on his favored right wing. The diminutive Argentine cuts inside, to his left, on a straight diagonal run to the far point at which the English half-moon meets their penalty box. Barcelona fans know the play, it is responsible for the lion’s share of Messi’s goals with the Blaugrana. On the way, Lionel dribbles past the three men who jump out to meet him, and as he reaches that golden spot, time seems to freeze, a poster picture moment, then the reel picks up and he fires around the sliding-block attempt of a fourth Englishman. It is an unstoppable bullet into the upper ninety, to Pickford’s right—goal Argentina!
Almost as if to collectively catch their breaths (and in some cases to absorb what they have just witnessed) both teams take the remainder of the half to digest the entire half’s goings-on and commit it to memory. Then for the few remaining minutes, the action seems to slow to a near standstill almost as if all the participants on the pitch were conserving their energy to expend it in the decisive second half.
The second half begins with a bang as Argentina control possession and move to dominate in their opponent’s half, with a tiki-taka-like extended attack, when a pretty combination between Bellingham and Rice releases Saka on a pretty cut into the box leaving him one-on-one with Martinez who barrels him over for an obvious penalty. Kane booms it in for the 2-1 English lead. The English media’s game commentators, play-by-play television guys, and their news media back home erupt with “I told you so’s” that are so early in the proceedings as to be hilarious.
Scaloni, who has been tiring of having to deal with Henderson decides it is time to put a little “wooden leg” into the mix, and every time Messi is denied the ball an English striker is tackled roughly, prompting the Brits to respond in kind. Just past the midway point of the second half an exhausted Henderson is surprisingly replaced by Grealish as the English team, feeling they have accomplished their tactical goal, drops the Messi-ploy and changes back to a 3-4-3.
The physical exchanges continue though, and eventually escalate until half of each team has a yellow card, but it is the Argentines who are playing their game now, and in the waning minutes of the match, well into stoppage time, an ironic goal draws Argentina level. A corner kick, delivered perfectly by Messi, reaches Paredes whose powerful downward header bamboozles Pickford for the tying score.
The ensuing extra time does nothing to provide a definitive outcome, so penalties are needed. And in another moment only the fates could have created Martinez and Pickford both save two of the first three penalties taken. Kane opened the Brits’ list, but Messi is kept for the end. The fourth penalties both go in and then Saka places his just outside Martinez’s outstretched hand for the third English goal. Messi needs to score his to draw the sides even and continue the shootout.
Lionel’s run-up is short and his shot beats Pickford as the keeper dives the opposite way, but the ball hits the inside of the post and ricochets sideways, across the entire goal, to where the dumbfounded English keeper embraces the sphere.
The Brits win and move on, burying their ghosts of penalty shootouts past and the memories of past Argentine shenanigans. The English media game commentators, play-by-play guys, and their news media back home erupt with “I told you so’s” that are still inappropriate and disdainful of the power the fates wield.
For Argentina, the fates were cruel as they had Messi channel another Maradona moment—providing in a single game a divine goal and a mere mortal moment, ultimately missing “the one” that counted in every possible sense of the phrase.
England wins 3-2 on penalties.
Senegal v France
The two French-speaking teams have met in a World Cup before, and the French were embarrassed. This time, with Sadio Mane in poor physical shape, the contest has a lopsided feel to it and even Senegal coach, Aliou Cisse, can sense his cup slipping away. The Senegalese have not been able to use Mane (Papa’s previous writings on Senegal’s Group Stage progression were completed before news of Mane’s injury) and though he suits up playing him is a risk neither the national team nor Bayern Munich seem comfortable with. In the end, saner heads prevail and despite the player’s wishes, he is left off the starting line-up.
For France, this is the break they told themselves they needed. They are Senegal on paper is a tough opponent but Mane is the danger man and without him, French coach, Didier Deschamps does not believe the Africans have the guns to put up a prolonged fight. Ironically, what they really need is a tough competitor to outmaneuver since their group stage games and Round of 16 against Mexico were nowhere near the challenge they need to have overcome by now.
Senegal are not cowering because Mane is out. He is substituted by Diallo in their 4-3-3 formation and the entire lineup is otherwise the same. France respond with their customary 3-4-1-2, but on the pitch, with Griezmann subbed out for Giroud, the team actually plays a 4-3-3. The teams somehow seem to already know how to play one another, perhaps because the Senegalese watch European club soccer or simply because France is their second favorite national team.
Deschamps will see this as a chance to put the result out of doubt early and rest his key starters, so he is preparing them for a one-two punch. They will lay back and absorb the expected early Senegalese fervent attacking and counter with Mbappe’s speed on the counter. Once their opponents have used up considerable energy trying to maintain possession, pressing high, and attacking at every opportunity, the French will slowly take over. Once they do the idea is to score repeatedly in the first half, control the Senegalese onslaught in the first 20 minutes of the second half and then cruise home or add to their lead before doing so.
Cisse knows that if his team falls behind they will have a hard time coming back as France’s midfield and defense are strong enough to keep anyone out if they are determined to play a park-the-bus type of strategy. He also knows that his best chance at success is surprising the French early, putting them off their game, and forcing them to attack often and thus leave their rear vulnerable to a counter which is Senegal’s best and favorite means of attack.
The match begins as expected with the Senegalese attacking and the French laying back and absorbing the pressure. But there is little rhythm to the African lineup’s opening performance and when they are forcing things in attack, they seem off-kilter. Senegal is not Senegal without Mane and it is obvious to all onlookers. The French, under Deschamps’s constant drilling in their pre-match trainings, have been preparing for this exact situation and in two quick moments of clarity, they counter.
Mbappe adds to his lead in the Golden Boot race on a pretty breakaway where he blasts the ball in—high and away from the keeper—from just inside the box and Benzema is the recipient of a pretty Giroud lay-off at the top of the box, following another breakaway, and the Real Madrid striker slots home the second French goal. Because the scores come within a ten-minute span the Senegal team is stunned and unable to react and the French control the remainder of the half playing keep-away. There are a couple of added goals scored by France, but they are both judged to have been notched while Giroud and Benzema were each offsides.
The second half goes no better for Senegal as they simply do not have the means without Sane to force a score and Cisse is unwilling to play the striker yet. He was hoping to have him by now but thought it most likely would be in the semis and now that prospect seems unlikely. Nevertheless, or perhaps because he doesn’t have Sane, Cisse gambles with a 4-2-4, moving his players into a different formation but keeping his lineup intact. This allows for more bodies to move forward but has little effectiveness in terms of creating chances.
Predictably, the French deal with the Senegal gamble by…doing nothing.
Deschamps is happy with his lead and at the 70th minute, he substitutes five of his stars to keep them fresh and the French coast to an easy win.
The Senegal national team’s dream run comes to an end at the 2022 World Cup. It is at the quadrennial tourney that teams need all their guns and then they must all be firing on all cylinders. Cisse and Mane are deflated as they walk off the pitch together and Deschamps and his group are exhilarated that they both won and were not taxed by the match.
France has lived a charmed cup so far, with little to no competition and some good fortune. But even they must know it can’t be that easy forever. From here on in things will be different for France, as, despite the fact that they will likely be fresher than their upcoming opponents, the next matches left to play will be the type that do require a major effort, total concentration, the right strategic plan, the right players in the lineup, and perhaps some luck to boot. From here on out it will be all about execution at the highest level of their potential performance, something they have not yet come close to achieving in Qatar.
Photo: Sadio Mane, Shutterstock ID 1450812338, by moshen nabil.