By Emmanuel Okara
Lagos, June 29, 2018 (NAN) Without further ado, the 16 teams that have qualified to play in the second round of the ongoing World Cup are set once again to do battle with each other for the quarter-finals slots.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that 16 teams qualified for the knockout stage of the FIFA World Cup to jostle for the eight quarter-finals slots.
While the other 16 teams, including the Super Eagles that did not qualify for the round of 16 have since departed Russia to their countries.
Now that the World Cup is now in the knockout stage, the issue of projections would have no bearing on the match pairings because each of the teams would have to decide their destinies through outright victory.
With the benefit of hindsight it is assumed that the coaches of the 16 gladiators would have worked on their perceived weaknesses before the commencement of hostilities to decide the quarter finalists.
The Lionel Messi inspired La Albiceleste that barely escaped elimination from the hands of the Super Eagles of Nigeria, would surely want to make amends by defeating Les Bleus of France for the quarter-finals ticket.
But France under the tutelage of 1998 World Cup winning captain, Didier Deschamps, also have their sights fixed on the quarter-finals slot which the Jorge Sampaoli coached Argentina are also eyeing.
Argentina have one of the most fearsome attacks in the world but so far, Sampaoli has not been able to get the players to click, maybe this crucial showdown will bring out the best from Sergio Agüero, Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuaín and Ángel Di María.
Deschamps has one of the most talented squads at the World Cup, but they were underwhelming at the group stage and seem to lack consistency…maybe the France showdown may provide the spark needed to propel their campaign.
Players like Antoine Griezman, Kylian Mbappe, Thomas Lemar, Paul Pogba, Olivier Giroud would need to step up their game, for a likely encore of their 1998 triumph at the Parc de Prince.
France have never defeated Argentina in a World Cup match. Previous meetings: France and Argentina have met 11 times. Argentina won six games, France two, with three draws.
The mouthwatering showdown between Portugal and Uruguay at the 48, 000 capacity Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi, is one match that could swing either way because of the pedigree of the players in the two teams.
It now behooves on Coach Fernando Santos of Portugal and Oscar Washington-Tabarez, to roll out their troops armed with the requisite tactical stratagem to outwit their opponents in the one-off match to decide the quarter-finalist.
This is where we expect to see the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Ricardo Quaresma, Pepe, William Carvalho…coming up with their A-game against the likes of Luis Suarez, Edison Cavani, Diego Godin.
The obvious strength of Uruguay lies up front with Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani forming one of the tournament’s most potent partnerships; Uruguay have yet to concede a goal in this World Cup.