Revolution

World Cup Round of 16: France, Uruguay move on to quarters

(FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

Couldn't keep up with the Round of 16 in Russia today? Don't worry, BostonSportsJournal.com has you covered with all the highlights in quickie form, complete with BSJ analysis and insight.

FIVE THOUGHTS ON SATURDAY'S ACTION

France moves on thanks to Mbappe: Four wonderful touches by 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe lifted France to the quarterfinals for the seventh time as Les Bleus knocked off Lionel Messi and a disorganized Argentina side, 4-3. Mbappe scored two goals and set up another Saturday: the PSG man earned a penalty following a hard counterattack, dragged down in the box from behind, and referee Alireza Faghani immediately pointed to the spot; Antoine Greizmann stepped up and sent Argentina goalkeeper Franco Armani the other way as he slotted home in the 13th minute. Argentina leveled through Angela Di Maria in the 41st, then went up 2-1 as a Messi shot caromed off Gabriel Mercado's foot. But in a span of 10 minutes, Argentina were on its way out: in the 58th, a cross to defender Benjamin Pavard turned into an absolute laser to pull France level. Five minutes later, Mbappe arrived with two touches on a scramble in the area to make it 3-2 to Les Bleus. And five minutes after that, Mbappe made it 4-2 on a pass from Olivier Giroud after wonderful build-up. Sergio Aguero pulled Argentina within a goal midway through second-half stoppage time thanks to a Messi cross... and while the Argentines pushed forward, they couldn't get a shot on target in the last minute.

Uruguay through, Portugal headed to the airport after 2-1 loss: In what had been a dry first half, Uruguay took a 1-0 lead on a breathtaking sequence in the seventh minute, with Luis Suarez crossing to Edinson Cavani at the back post for a header. Honestly, it was the only real highlight of the first 45 minutes, save Suarez's low free-kick and Suarez's "head injury;" Portugal didn't have any serious attacks during the first half, Uruguay's defense keeping Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. in check. But nearly 10 minutes into the second half, a volley off a short corner saw Pepe rise behind CR7 and head it in with the force of a cannon to pull level, the first goal Uruguay has allowed since November. The even score only lasted seven minutes as Suarez swung it over to Cavani, who one-timed a cracker in the 62nd to reclaim the lead. Yet after Cavani went off with an injury, Portugal would pile on the pressure in the final 20 minutes; the Celestes, parking the bus, managed to withstand it. And despite calls for a Uruguayan handle on a stoppage-time corner (spoiler alert: it wasn't a handle), the European champs couldn't get the equalizer, and now bow out.

What were the odds?: Longtime Berkshire Eagle scribe Howard Herman -- truly one of the great guys in our Commonwealth sports scene west of the Reservoir -- tweeted to me just before the full-time whistle in Sochi: "Odds that Messi and Ronaldo would be out on the same day?" I replied, "Low. Very low." At least that's what anyone would have thought before Saturday's action began, if you like conventional wisdom and thinking. Uruguay is good, yes, but Portugal won the Euros. They'd find a way to win. The thought that Messi and CR7 would meet up in Friday's quarterfinal was the safe bet. But the fact that two of our generation's greats bid farewell to this tournament -- and just think, they may never play another World Cup match again, seeing as Messi will be 35 and CR7 will be 37 when they kick the first ball in November 2022; they may still play club football, but international? Maybe not -- on the very same day, three hours apart? I don't think anyone outside of Uruguay would have ever predicted that.

Messi to bid adieu to international football again?: At times during this tournament, he was invisible. At times, he walked leisurely (all stars do that; watch Cristiano Ronaldo closely; hell, Lee Nguyen did it when he called Foxborough home). And at times, he looked willing to protect his legacy. If this was the last we saw of Lionel Messi on the world's stage -- remember that he retired after Argentina lost the Copa America Centenario in '16, then came back; I think he'll call time for the reasons we stated above, seeing as he'll be 32 for the next Copa America, 33 when World Cup qualifying begins, and 35 when the next World Cup starts -- then we saw the last of a man who just didn't have the right players around him. That's one of the reasons why the Albicelestes are headed home early. Argentina's FA now has to explain to its supporters why they sucked it up: was it 1. bad management and questionable lineup choices (has anyone seen Jorge Sampaoli and Pitbull in the same room?), 2. that no one on the pitch increased the level of their play to Messi's level -- or 3. that Messi was just that far ahead of everyone else, and it's time to look at how they develop future players? Or maybe they should have left Messi home? That last one is probably the unpopular thought, but would they have been able to handle things without him?

Mbappe, others are about to get paaaaid: One of the great things about the World Cup is that we're introduced to a lot of players who just elevate their game when the spotlight is brightest. Three players that I've noticed doing this? Mbappe, Chucky Lozano, and Russian striker Artem Dzyuba. Three players that have jumped further into the public's footballing consciousness, and whose agents are staring at fat paydays when the next contract -- or the next transfer fee to bigger European clubs -- comes rolling in.

OFF THE PITCH

  • Mexico captain Andres Guardado has requested that VAR officials try to keep Neymar's antics in check when El Tri meet the Selecao on Monday. "We all know Neymar. Now they have VAR ... and the referee needs to be on top of it because we know he likes to exaggerate fouls, he likes to drop to the floor a lot." To me, it sounds like Guardado wants to see VAR used to check needless flopping. We'll see how that goes...
  • FiveThirtyEight.com timed every group stage match (bless them) and said that the stoppage time given for all but one match was incorrect -- by a large margin.
  • FIFA held the usual post-group stage news conference on Friday. Largest worldwide TV audience for the group stage was Mexico-Germany at 215 million, by FIFA's estimation. In addition, FIFA competitions director Colin Smith says the world governing body will review the usage of disciplinary record -- which decided Group H's second-place side -- but don't have plans to change it. They also said every player has been drug tested at least once, and everyone has come up clean.
  • FIFA's referee chief is also pleased with how VAR has been implemented during matches.
  • 23-year-old Iran striker Sardar Azmoun has announced he will retire from international football due to criticism; he notes the criticism has affected his mother's health. Sportswriters in Iran hope Azmoun, who plays his club football for Rubin Kazan in Russia, will change his mind and reverse his decision.
  • 20 years ago today, Argentina also played a Round of 16 match -- against England. David Beckham saw a straight red, and Argentina won on penalties.
  • Javier Mascherano retired from international football after the Argentina loss. He made 147 appearances for the Albicelestes, scoring three goals in international play.

STATS OF THE DAY

  • 4.2 million on average are watching World Cup matches in the United States via FOX/FS1 and Telemundo. FOX/FS1 averages 2,208,563 viewers, while Telemundo averages 2,048,063.
  • VAR checked 335 incidents during the group stages.
  • Mbappe's two goals Saturday makes him the second youngest player to score a brace in a World Cup match. The youngest? A 17-year-old named Pele in 1958. He's the fourth youngest to score in a knockout match, behind Pele, England's Michael Owen, and the US' Julian Green.
  • Argentina's loss was the first time that the Albicelestes have lost a competitive match (friendlies do not count) while scoring three goals.
  • Argentina's Paolo Dybala scored more goals at the club level (Italian giants) Juventus this season, 26, than minutes played in the last two weeks, 22.

PLAYERS OF THE DAY

Kylian Mbappe, striker, France; Edinson Cavani, striker, Uruguay

Two goals apiece, all four on solid moves. No question about it that they get full marks, and will go up against each other on Friday morning.

TOP PLAYS

Mbappe draws the early pen:

Di Maria levels it for Argentina:

Messi to Mercado, just how they drew it up:

Pavard with... my god, I have no words:

That first touch by Mbappe.....:

Mbappe again!:

Aguero pulls Argentina to within one:

Such a sick cross by Suarez:

Pepe pulls Portugal level:

A winner from Cavani:

WHAT TO LOOK FOR SUNDAY

We go to the other side of the bracket as Boston's Derek Rae calls Spain-Russia -- how do the host nation handle an organized offensive side not named Uruguay? -- while Croatia takes on Denmark. See you then.