France vs Argentina: Rating the French players
Who said knockout games are supposed to be boring? In the best game of the World Cup so far, France narrowly managed to defeat Argentina in a 4-3 thriller.
The game had everything: spectacular goals, masterful assists, mazy dribbles and crunching tackles. For France, this game showed that the team may have overcome some of the attacking lethargy present earlier in the tournament as Kylian Mbappe ran all over the Argentine defence.
So how did France’s players' rate in this World Cup classic?
Manager and Goalkeeper:
Didier Deschamps- 6
His tactics seemed baffling at the beginning of the game as he again chose to play Blaise Matuidi on the left wing. Moreover, France’s tendency to sit back and defend seemed to have failed when Argentina led 2-1. However, in the end, Deschamps was vindicated as Mbappe and Giroud (his most controversial selection) combined on several occasions to tear apart the Argentine defence.
Hugo Lloris - 6
The Tottenham goalkeeper will be disappointed to have conceded three goals but the reality is that the French captain could have done nothing about any of them. Otherwise, he didn’t have make any meaningful save. Lloris’s distribution was excellent throughout.
Benjamin Pavard - 7
The World Cup has a strange way of making heroes out of the most anonymous players. Pavard was probably the least well-known of France’s star-studded squad coming into the tournament as the backup right-back. Two weeks later, he struck what may have been the goal of the tournament. It was the perfect volley- struck sweetly into the top corner. The Stuttgart player was a constant threat going forward. However, Pavard switched off in the last twenty minutes as his mistakes enabled Aguero to grab Argentina’s third.
Raphael Varane - 7
Absolutely imperious in the centre of the park- Varane was probably the best centre-back on either side in this shootout. He continuously shut down any threat posed by the Argentines. This was especially prominent when Varane made countless interventions to stop Angel Di Maria after the latter had beaten Pavard. He was also the only French defender who did not switch off after France’s fourth goal and thus helped cover for his teammate’ mistakes.
Samuel Umtiti - 5
The Barcelona defender has still not reached his best in the tournament. He was strangely indecisive throughout as Varane had to cover for his mistakes on several occasions. Like Varane, he probably should have done more to close down Di Maria for Argentina’s first. Also switched off after France’s fourth as he let Messi and Di Maria get behind on numerous occasions.
Lucas Hernandez - 8
I’ll admit that when Benjamin Mendy was ruled out of this game, I was a little worried about how the inexperienced Lucas Hernandez would cope with the star-studded Argentina attack. Needless to say, he proved that those worries were moot. Hernandez was brilliant defensively as he rendered Cristian Pavon ineffective- making five tackles and one interception. In the second half, Hernandez bombed down the left and made countless crucial crosses. It was his dangerous delivery that Pavard blasted into the goal for France’s second. It was another cross that enabled Kylian Mbappe to rifle home France’s third.
N’Golo Kante - 7
Kante put in his usual brilliant performance in defensive midfield. The Chelsea midfielder tracked Messi throughout as he forced the Argentine superstar to regularly drop back into midfield and thus rendered him ineffective for most parts of the game. Even when Messi and his teammates received the ball, Kante was crucial as he made three tackles and three interceptions in the game. This spectacular defensive work was also complemented by Kante’s energy going forward- his pass began the move for the first goal. Kante’s only fault in the game was his failure to close down Di Maria for Argentina’s first.
Paul Pogba - 6
An unusually quiet game for the Manchester United midfielder who has been excellent throughout the tournament. He was overshadowed by the likes of Griezmann, Mbappe and Giroud. Nonetheless, he still managed to exert influence with one key pass and two dribbles. Pogba was better in the second half when his energy and runs caused confusion in the Argentine defence- enabling Mbappe’s double.
Blaise Matuidi - 6
In some ways, Matuidi did not make the contribution that should be expected of a left midfielder/winger in this French side. However, that was not his fault as he was being played out of position by Deschamps. Despite this, Matuidi worked hard and managed to make a positive impact on the game. He tracked back well as he made two tackles and two interceptions- such discipline allowed Lucas Hernandez to overlap and bomb forward. While he was ineffective going forward, it was Matuidi’s pass that allowed Hernandez to make the cross for Pavard’s equalizer.
Kylian Mbappe - 10
There are moments in the world of football (and indeed sports) when a player announces his arrival into the sport’s elite. Today, those of us watching the pre-quarterfinal were lucky to witness such a moment. Mbappe has been a star for a year already but today was the day where he announced his arrival as a true superstar. When Mbappe received the ball in his own half in the tenth minute, very few would have anticipated what they were about to witness. Mbappe made the type of thunderous run that has only been matched in World Cup history by Diego Maradona and Michael Owen. It earned France a penalty which Griezmann duly converted. Mbappe would get two of his own later in the game as his intelligent running, mazy dribbling and clinical finishing culminated in one of the best performances in the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Antoine Griezmann - 7
Usually excellent for the Les Blues, Griezmann has not matched his usual standards in this World Cup. The Atletico Madrid striker was a major threat throughout for the Argentine defence. He calmly converted a brilliant penalty to open the scoring. Perhaps Griezmann’s biggest contribution to this game (after the penalty) was the defensive shift he put in. Griezmann made several crucial tackles (including on Messi) when tracking back. Finally, No.7’s backheel helped begin the team move that culminated in France’s fourth goal.
Oliver Giroud - 7
To be honest, I thought that Giroud was the worst French player on the pitch in the first half. He contributed nothing to the team’s dynamic attack. Often he ruined promising moves with a bad first touch that allowed Argentinian defenders to pounce on his mistakes. However, in the second period, Giroud was excellent as his exemplary hold-up play enabled France’s brilliant counter-attacks. His back-heel for the fourth goal was absolutely splendid.