Lionel Messi led Argentina will face FIFA World Cup favorites France in the Round of 16 on Saturday.
France may start their Round of 16 World Cup clash against Argentina as favorites on Saturday but that didn’t prevent reporters from inundating France captain Hugo Lloris and coach Didier Deschamps with questions on Lionel Messi at the Kazan Arena.
“It’s perfectly normal to talk about Messi. Together with (Cristiano) Ronaldo, they have been the topmost players over the years. There are a lot of expectations around Messi and Argentina, so it’s normal to talk about them,” Lloris said on the eve of the high-voltage clash. The Tottenham Hotspur shot-stopper though played down comparisons between France starlet Kylian Mbappe and Messi.
“Messi is unique. You cannot compare anyone to Messi. Kylian has great potential. Tomorrow he will have more space than he had in the first three matches.” Deschamps, while conceding that it would be difficult to keep Messi out of the game, stressed that the Barcelona star’s influence on the game can be curtailed with some organized defending.
“Messi is Messi. We would like to mark and neutralize him but we know he can make the difference with very little (help),” he said. “We have to take this into account. (But) when you play Argentina with Messi on the pitch, there are many solutions to (try and) limit his impact at least,” Deschamps, the 1998 Cup-winning captain, added.
France has been defensively impressive so far in Russia. In their three group games, Deschamps’ men have conceded just once, through a penalty against Australia. It is this defensive solidity that France must build upon to go far in the competition, said Lloris, responding to criticism on his side’s underwhelming attacking performances so far.
“We know how to take criticism. We try and analyze our results. Our objective was to top our group. In the last match, we could have been better,” Lloris said.
“Our defense has been very good. Not everything is negative when you talk about the French team. If the national team wants to progress in the competition, we will have to build on our defensive solidity as previous teams have done in the past.”
Deschamps revealed he will miss one of his regular full-backs for Saturday’s game. “Benjamin Mendy has a small muscle problem, so he will not be available tomorrow.”
WAITING FOR GRIEZMANN
With France having brought a young team to Russia, Deschamps sought to play down expectations from his side. “The Argentina team is highly experienced. We have a young team in France. This is not an excuse, this is the reality. We will do our utmost for everything to go well tomorrow.”
On France’s star forward Antoine Griezmann’s largely unimpressive campaign so far, Deschamps said: “The beginning has been a bit difficult for him but then he played some 65 minutes against Denmark where he picked up some momentum. It is true that France needs Griezmann at his top level and he is doing everything for that.”