World Cup 2018: 4 players who will be crucial to Argentina's success in the knockouts
Nothing went right for Jorge Sampaoli and his men until the high-voltage final group fixture win against Nigeria at Saint Petersburg. Almost all his tactics backfired in the first two games against Iceland and Croatia.
The opening fixture against Iceland ended in a 1-1- stalemate after Lionel Messi missed a crucial penalty, which could have earned them full points.
In the next game, switching to 3-4-2-1 formation against the Croatian side comprising of players like Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic backfired as Argentina suffered a humiliating 0-3 defeat against the Croatians who were ruthless on the day.
Goal keeper Willy Caballero's blunder and Modric's brilliance earned the Croatians a dominating result over the La Albiceleste at the Nizhny Novgorod stadium.
After a draw and a demoralizing defeat, Argentina needed to win their final group fixture against Nigeria at Saint Petersburg. But that wasn't enough for Messi's men who were hoping for a Croatian win over Iceland to make it to the Round of 16.
Everything went well for them on the night as they defeated the African nation 2-1 and were rightly helped by the Croatians who won by the same margin against Iceland.
Argentina will now meet France in the Round of 16 on June 30 at the Kazan Arena for a place in the last eight. But it won't be easy for Argentina to stop the mighty French attack. Let us now look at four players who will be crucial for their success in the knockout phase.
#4 Franco Armani
Though he is not a household name in the footballing world, Armani is arguably one of the best goal keepers of South America.
The 31 year old shot-stopper who played eight seasons for the Colombian club; Atletico Nacional (2010-2018) won the Colombian league, domestic cup, the Colombian Super cup, Copa Libertadores and Recopa Sudamericana during his successful stint with the Colombian outfit.
Armani, who won the Supercopa Argentina (domestic cup) with River Plate in March 2018 as his club won 2-0 against Boca Juniors in the finals made his Argentina debut in the crucial final Group D fixture against Nigeria at Saint Petersburg.
Sampaoli failed to include Sergio Romero in the World Cup squad (in spite of the player himself announcing that he is fit) and was widely criticized for not deploying Franco Armani instead of Caballero. The humiliating 0-3 defeat against Croatia forced the Argentine management to bring Armani in for the game against the 'Super Eagles'.
Making his debut, he made some decisive saves in the high-pressure game against the African side. Nigeria would have scored more had he not made those brilliant saves. If not for the penalty in which Victor Moses scored for Nigeria (awarded due to Javier Mascherano's unwanted foul), Armani had a decent debut in the Argentine colours.
The 31 year old looked a far better goal keeper than Willy Caballero (who was error-prone in the game against Croatia) with his works in front of the goal. Armnai's role under the bar will once again hold the key for Messi's men who will be facing the French in the Round of 16 at Kazan. He needs to be at his best to stop the French force comprising of a plethora of superstars.