Lionel Messi had high hopes in Russia this year. Unfortunately, his hopes didn’t turn into fruition as he, together with his raging Argentine team, failed to win the World Cup title.
Everyone thought that the Barca striker would help propel Argentina into World Cup domination as he had been in peak shape and condition all-season long. We all know how Rio 2014 turned out.
It was a disappointing campaign for Argentina as they were on the verge of getting the title. But the game turned the other way around as Germany defeated them 1-0 in the final. Messi was devastated and even decided to end his international career.
Good thing that he changed his mind a few months after. But then again, the same thing happened as they still failed to win the title this year despite the seemingly strong team Jorge Sampaoli gathered. What made things even worse is that their elimination was an early one after France defeated them in the quarter-final. It was a devastating 4-3 defeat at the hands of the French team.
And together with it were the hopes and ambitions of Messi securing his place as one of the greatest players in World Cup history. Yes sure, he can be called one of them. But there are some lingering doubts to that due to his two consecutive World Cup failures.
It was supposed to be his chance to awaken and reignite Argentina’s desire of dominating the world of football. Unfortunately, that it failed to happen as they stuttered when they faced Didier Deschamps’ men.
Meanwhile, France striker Kylian Mbappe had a great time in Russia as he surprised everyone with his spectacular performance.
He might be 19-years-old and lacks needed experience to reign supreme in the international stage, but he sure secured his name as one of the greatest World Cup players.
Mbappe made record after becoming the youngest player since 1958 with Pele to have scored two goals in a World Cup match. This comes as a big surprise because analysts expected him to have at most a decent performance in Russia.
France approached the game differently in Russia because they maintained a paced strategy. Though they might have an arsenal of highly aggressive players, they decided not to let their offensive strength overwhelm them.
Instead, what they did was that they followed a cautious gameplay where they studied their opponents’ every move, continuously adapting minute after minute. It’s through this that they were able to solve the puzzle that made the Argentine team seemingly invincible.
Mbappe said in an interview that it makes him happy and proud to become the second teenage to score two goals in the World Cup. It’s also an honor for him to be like Pele in making this record.
However, he humbled himself down as he added that Pele is on a different level. This shows that Mbappe knows that he still has a lot to learn and go through for him to be in the level of Pele.
Embattled Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli had promised an "aggressive, attacking" approach Argentina, on the other hand, did the opposite of France’s approach in the World Cup. What they instead did was that they did an aggressive attacking game plan to defeat their opponents.
Though this might have worked on other teams like Nigeria, it didn’t with a higher-caliber team like that of France’s. Jorge Sampaoli should have made things more fluid for La Albiceleste, at least for the way they did their attacks and midfield lines.
Changing their strategy every once in a while should have enabled them to outsmart Deschamp’s men. Unfortunately, they didn’t. What made things even worse was that the French strikers were very fast.
Take for example the moment when Mbappe sprinted from the other half and getting Marcos Rojo’s attention. This freed up Antoine Griezmann to seize the opening, and in the process, smoothly convert a penalty in the 13th minute.
It was Mbappe who managed to strike, 64 and 68 minutes into the game which made his team soar and make it to the top 8 of the World Cup. This comes after Pavard’s leveling, thanks to an astounding half-volley on the 57th minute.
All of this has affirmed France’s dominance in the game, which seemed to fade the moment they were trailing behind Argentina with 2-1, thanks to Angel di Maria’s stunner, 41 minutes into the game.
The gap even widened after the restart when Messi’s shot was clipped by Gabriel Mercado, going past Hugo Lloris. Sergio Aguero’s heading of the long cross by Messi, managing to dodge Lloris when it was stoppage time served as the consolation for the Argentinian team for their loss.
Despite this, however, Mbappe has already cemented his place in the limelight, having done so at the young age of 19.
Age is believed to be a factor that has led to Argentina’s defeat versus France, with their team coach, Jorge Sampaoli admitting that France’s team of young and fast players have taken its toll on his team.
Currently, France’s mean age for players is 25, a far cry from Argentina’s aging group of players. Mbappe and other player’s fast shift to defense from the attack has given France an edge in their battle for a spot in the top 8.
Growing up, he also was a fan of Ronaldo and was his childhood hero. He was a follower of so many top football players, and not much of a team.
Sampaoli is both frustrated and sorry for the results, but he does not blame his players for what happened. After all, he believes that they have fought their hardest, and were almost at the point of leveling in the last few moments of their game.
Their defeat has indeed, given France a huge confidence boost, as they quality for the quarter-finals versus Uruguay, who also managed to defeat Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo in a 2-1 battle during Saturday’s game.
Commentary: the boon and the bane
Messi, who has bagged the Ballon d'Or winning title for five times, still has aspects in his gameplay that he has to develop. This includes his skills in defense and heading, even though he has been hailed as "closest to perfect," according to Arsene Wenger.
The superstar of FC Barcelona reckons that these remain his biggest weaknesses and that at the end of the day, all players have their own set of flaws. He further adds that in the air, he isn’t performing that well, nor is he exemplary in the defense aspect of the game.
Despite that though, he can give others the chance to play, all while being able to contribute scores for the team himself.
It is with your strengths that you bank on at the end of the day, however, and it is the duty of the coach to highlight all of these strongpoints in the team, and adjust his players according to these strengths, as well as his weaknesses.
Messi and Barca were pitted against Wenger during the UEFA Champions League for a total of 6 times, where Wenger found himself nine times behind the net when those meetings took place.
Carlos Tevez, who used to be Argentina’s forward, has appealed to Messi not to retire yet, and that his country should do its best to give as much support as they can in future matches for him.
Messi came under fire after Argentina's defeat, where the team, out of the four games, only managed to get a single goal, with the final blow being their defeat to France in round 2.
According to Tevez, has to think about what would truly give him happiness and comfort, as it is extremely hard to have the championship of Argentina’s responsibility all on his own.
Not making him happy, or the team doing nothing regarding getting him closer to victory is all making him feel uncomfortable. He further adds that he tells him that he is needed by the team, but he should rest and keep a cool head.
Tevez believes that Messi is the Argentinian team's soul, and so long as his football journey isn't over yet, he should remain on that pedestal, keeping his responsibility being the ultimate idol of his country, as a lot of fans and younger players alike look up to him as a player.
Fans are also hopeful that this wouldn’t be Messi’s final World Cup game, as they want to still see him in Qatar by 2022. By then, however, he would already have turned 35 years old.
Tevez, really wants Messi to play in the international scene, amidst rumors swirling around that the World Cup may be his last on a global scale.
France gets better odds
Hugo Lloris believes that getting rid of Messi, and effectively, Argentina by beating them in their game has given France the assurance within themselves that they would take the title for this year.
France nearly lost, and their journey could have ended in the final 16, had they continued to trail with a 2-1 to Argentina, who were finalists in the previous World Cup match.
Benjamin Pavard managed to pull off an equalizer, which led France to rally to a 4-3 win versus Messi and his team, who initially managed to earn 2 goals on both half-time sides.
Their game was one of the biggest threats towards them making it any further in the World Cup and winning the second time around, where they ultimately ended up defeating Uruguay, Belgium, and ultimately, Croatia.
Lloris, France's goalkeeper, believes that their win versus Argentina made the group much stronger by affirming their belief that they have what it takes to make it from one round to another.
While each game was a challenge, they managed to pull it off. With every hurdle successfully passed, they feel that they were ready for victory.
Indeed, Mbappe managed to strike during the final match versus Croatia, despite Lloris’ goal blunder during the second half of the game, ultimately leading to a 4-2 win for their team.
Rolando and Messi rivalry
Ronaldo and Messi’s stints as forwards for their team both ended prematurely for this year’s world cup, but they still are in the running for best goal scorers for the entire tournament. Fans of FIFA will be given a chance to vote on who they believe had the best goal for this year.
Apart from those two, Nacho Fernandez of Spain and Benjamin Pavard of France are also in the running.
The sublime strike versus Nigeria during the group stage is what led Messi to be nominated, which came after Ever Banega picking out the run he made into the box.
The free-kick goal in their team’s match versus Portugal also led to Ronaldo being one of the nominees for the said award. The late strike gave a point to their country, which also summed up an effective hat-trick of his.
Messi is now having some downtime in Formentera, one of the Balearic Islands, just located off Spain's coast, and can be reached via boat from Ibiza. In his downtime.
He is there to recharge and forego of the World Cup’s miseries, as well as a means of prepping himself for the upcoming La Liga season.
This comes after Argentina losing to France during Round 2 of the tournament, which was a neck-to-neck battle which eventually ended with a 4-3 score for France and Argentina, respectively.
Last Wednesday, Messi was seen enjoying the warm sunshine on the yacht and some swimming together with AntonellaRoccuzzo, the 31-year-old’s wife, their three children, and some friends, including the partner of his former team-mate in Barcelona, Cesc Fabregas, Daniella Semaan.
Christiano Ronaldo’s transfer to Juventus, which was prized at £100m, has effectively made Messi the only star of La Liga.
According to Wayne Rooney, who used to be one of the teammates of Ronaldo in Manchester United, and is now with DC United in the US, said that he thinks of Messi as a better player than Ronaldo.
While he believes that the two of them are the best, he said that Messi is one of the best in a Barstool sports podcast. Fixtures for the La Liga, which is due to start on August 18, have yet to be announced.
Though it re-linking with Barcelona is expected towards the end of this month, together with big stars for Spain like Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique, and Sergio Busquets.
They were given the option to have a month-long leave after the World Cup by their coach, Ernesto Valverde, but they opted to return sooner than that.
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