The World Cup’s Round of 16 got off to an explosive start over the weekend. France and Argentina kicked things off and then Uruguay took on Portugal in the later game. For the two best players in modern soccer, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, these games were pivotal for their countries. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned.
For France and Argentina, this game was the time for both squads to finally show up. Both teams underperformed throughout the Group Stage and Argentina barely made it out alive. The sense of urgency was readily apparent for these teams as the first Round of 16 action kicked off. Argentina gave up a penalty early on and Antoine Griezmann converted from the spot. Angel Di Maria scored off a rocket to tie things up for the Argentinians before halftime. The second half is where things would really explode.
Gabriel Mercado scored off a lucky deflection to give Argentina a shot at life in the quarterfinals. France’s Benjamin Pavard answered 9 minutes later with a vicious knuckleball to tie things up yet again. At this point, the true star of the game emerged. 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe has been under the spotlight since he broke out at Monaco. The young Frenchman scored France’s third goal after a clever move that put him into position to slot one past Argentina’s keeper. Argentina looked defeated and things got worse from there. France took off on a fast-paced counterattack from a goal kick and Mbappe was wide open on the right flank. Forward Olivier Giroud played an inch-perfect pass to give Mbappe a clear shot on goal without him having to break stride. France’s fourth goal came 4 minutes after their third and Argentina’s fate seemed sealed. Substitute Sergio Aguero scored the third goal for Argentina off a nice header in stoppage time, but there wasn’t enough time left for them to tie things up.
Uruguay and Portugal’s game was nowhere near as exciting as the preceding fixture based on goals, but it was still a good game. Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani opened the scoring in the 7th minute to put his side in front. Portugal was unable to muster an answer until the 55th minute in the second half. Defender Pepe rose up on a set piece to head the ball past Uruguay’s keeper. Unfortunately for Portugal, Cavani was there to slot one home again off a nice curler via an Uruguayan counterattack. Portugal had several chances to equalize and force extra time but couldn’t put anything through.
With these games, the World Cup saw 2 more giants fall in both Argentina, one of the original heavy favorites to win, and Portugal. Ronaldo and Messi lost another chance to secure World Cup glory and add another trophy to their already well-established careers. France and Uruguay both seemed the more deserving side to go through. We also saw the trend continue of top teams falling by the wayside in this unpredictable tournament.