Knockout Day 1: Messi and Ronaldo Exit, Leave Room for New Stars

July 1, 2018

In a day featuring two of the world's most decorated athletes, viewers were gifted with two equally thrilling matches, ultimately resulting in the end of the road for Argentina and Portugal in the 2018 World Cup. Early favorites entering the tournament, if only for the star power either side had to offer in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Argentina fell to a faster, more potent French side led by the efforts of 19-year-old starlet Kylian "Run All Day Long" Mbappe, while Portugal were diffused by a stalwart Uruguayan team who conceded just their first goal of the tournament on a strong header from Portugal's Pepe. While critics and casual fans alike will focus on the demise of the ageing Lio and CR7, both of whom still haven't achieved World Cup victory, a newer story is unfolding in the wake of their exit, and many hungry stars are lying in wait to write their own chapter on the world's stage.

 

A notably pacier, punchier French performance was certainly punctuated by the efforts of Paris Saint-Germain's Mbappe, whose 80-yard solo run set up the opening goal of the game as he drew a penalty after outrunning the whole damn Argentinean team. He was also on the end of an 8-touch, 5-pass team movement, from goalie to goal, for France's fourth—and ultimately winning—goal. There was also Paul Pogba, the "world's most criticized player," who rose to the occasion on the day, working box to box and controlling the tempo with precision and poise. He looks to be improving with each game this tournament. N'Golo Kante's efforts can't be overlooked either, as he proved to be the double-down that France needed to stifle a Lionel Messi who just never looked like he was going to get a foothold on the game.

 

Four goals and a win much more convincing than the scoreline, France is beginning to look as good on the pitch as they do on paper, but conceding three against an Argentina side who limped into the knockout stages, including a late one that left room for a breathy final minute, leaves France with many questions to answer as they move on to the quarterfinals.

 "Changing of the Guard?" A dead-eyed Messi shakes Mbappe after the win. BBC

 

Two hours and 2,000 kilometers away at Fisht Olympic Stadium, Uruguay were gearing up for an inspired Portugal side—hot-blooded and hardened after their 2016 Euro Cup victory and riding the tails of a man hunting much more than the Golden Boot. Uruguay will, perhaps forever, draw the ire of the international fanship due to the efforts of Luis "Rat-face, Embellishing Piece of Shit" Suarez, who has bitten two men in the past four years and sent Ghana home after his controversial handball in the 2014 cup, but it was his striking partner Edinson "Tightest Shirt on the Planet" Cavani who took center stage today with his two first-time finishes, one with his shoulder/head and the other a curling effort with the inside of his right boot.

 

Meanwhile, another more traditional narrative was unfolding for Uruguay in the way of their defense. A seasoned back five, featuring center-back Diego Godin and keeper Fernando Muslera, turned away effort after effort from an increasingly-desperate Portugal side, who were found shooting from over 30 yards out in the late stages of the game. They conceded their first goal of the tournament only on a corner kick from from a towering Pepe, but were keen to keep Ronaldo, who didn't head the ball in the box once in the game, from winning anything in the air. The back line was committed throughout, but the entire team was needed to see the game out, as they set nine men behind the ball for the last fifteen minutes of regulation to keep Portugal from tying.

 

Fans of attacking football will favor the style of the French over Uruguay, but there is that old adage about defending that coaches call upon for a reason. Not that Uruguay are favorites suddenly. They have issues in the midfield and now a new concern in the form of a calf injury for Cavani that could dampen their spirits as they enter the quarters.

 Ronaldo helps off an injured Cavani shortly before his own WC exit. SkyNews

 

All in a day's work, and perhaps a reminder to fans who found the group stages a bit lackluster that these tournaments are a month-long spectacle, one that only heats up as we go further into summer.

 

Spain play hosts Russia tomorrow before Croatia take on Denmark. Until Day Two!

 

 

 

 

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