World Cup Preview: France v Argentina

Who? France - Argentina
Where? Kazan Arena, Kazan
When? June 30, 16:00 (CET local time)

France (Omri Tancman)

In many cases, when two teammates at club level play each other in the World Cup there is a little bit of magic in the air. It is always interesting to watch how personal contacts and friendships transform very easily to a rivalry once money is transferred with national pride. This will be the case for Samuel Umtiti and Lionel Messi

Between both players there is a lot of mutual respect. For example, when rumors in March linked Umtiti with leaving Barcelona, one of the most vocal players to keep Umtiti in the club was Messi. Umtiti as well shows a lot of appreciation for Messi. Umtiti was asked in a press conference towards the game between France and Argentina about his relationship with Messi. According to Umtiti, it is almost impossible to stop Messi due to his abnormal qualities and his desire to win every game. Umtiti, the one who’s supposed to stop Messi during Barcelona trainings, said that Messi’s technical abilities and different eye to the game, as he witnesses every day, is what makes Messi so difficult to stop for defenders but at the same time so admired and appreciated by them.

Even though Umtiti maintains a close relationship with Messi, he admits that he did not contact Messi at all and that he prefers to concentrate on his own performance during the game. Both players might probably exchange some impressions and words after the highly expected clash will end. In these moments, it maybe will be nice for them to remember that after all its just football. However, it seems that Umtiti’s words and maybe also both players’ behavior after the game can be a good reminder that there are moments in which it is much more than just a game.

Argentina (Yossi Medina)

Argentina's pressure is almost over. After facing the possibility of elimination in the group stage, Argentina managed to complete a wonderful game against Nigeria and reach the round of 16. Sampaoli and his players now left over this pressure and now there is only one tiny expectation that the fans still want their team to achieve – winning the World Cup.

It wouldn't be easy, thanks for both the team's performance until now and the draw. Although Argentina eventually defeated Nigeria, we need to remember that the team showed weak performance in their first two matches. Moreover, Nigeria missed few chances to make the thing a bit complicated for Argentina and no one can promise that France will not use it in order to get an advantage.

If Argentina wants to reach the final, they have to walk through a tough journey. Uruguay or Portugal will wait in the quarter finals, Brazil might be their opponents in the semi finals. These rivals are much stronger than Argentina's opponents in the group stage, so they just can't play in the same level as in the previous stage.

Some optimists say that playing against France can lead to the final, as happened in the history. The teams faced each other twice in the past World Cup, in 1930 group stage and in 1978 group stage. In both of the occasions, Argentina won as part from a journey to the World Cup final.

The fans can be found already everywhere in Kazan. Just like it was in St. Petersburg few days ago, they will bring the Latin vibes to the stadium and will make it to feel like a match in Buenos Aires. With such a support, everybody is ready for their show.

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World Cup Preview: Nigeria v Argentina

Who? Nigeria - Argentina
Where? Krestovsky Stadium, St. Petersburg
When? June 26, 20:00 (CET local time)


African football has started to rise in the recent days of the World Cup. Between Senegal's two matches, Nigeria defeated Iceland and gave a chance of qualification for the Super Eagles. If you consider the other results in this group, Nigeria maybe can feel that defeating Argentina would not be a surprise.

Since their game in Friday, everyone talks about Ahmed Musa. His numbers became historical: he became Nigeria's all-time World Cup top scorer and the first Nigerian to score in two different World Cups with four goals. In his career he scored 15 international goals and now he is ranked 6th, above some Nigerian legends such as Julius Aghahowa and Jay-Jay Okocha.

Nigeria will face Argentina in a point that they couldn't ask for better. A team that was among the favorites to win and looks like a wounded animal. Nigeria will try to use in order to have an advantage over their opponents, all the way to the round of 16. Yet, Nigeria need to face its past as they lost all their matches against Argentina in the World Cup.

With high dreams and expectations, while all Africa is watching them, Nigeria is the hope to make something different. If they will win and Argentina will be eliminated, it can be a beginning of an interesting chapter in the African football history.


Chaos. There is only one word that can describe the situation of the Argentine national team. Nobody thought that Argentina will be with only one point after the first two games, knowing that they are closer more than ever to being eliminated at the end of the group stage.

The poor performance against Croatia made many to think that maybe Argentina is not as strong as many thought. The feeling is that Argentina can't really perform well in this World Cup and they know who is the responsible: the coach, Jorge Sampaoli.

The reports from the Argentine camp are talking about some kind of revolt against Sampaoli. According to the local media, the players demands that Sampaoli will resign. Some reports even said that the players recommended Jorge Burruchaga, the national team general manager, as their coach for the match against Nigeria.

In these cases, you can always hope that one will give its best show, AFA chairman, Chiqui Tapia. Since the match against Croatia, Tapia slams constantly the media. He says that they are publishing lies and accused them in lack of patriotism.

Since Thursday night, a lot of things changed. Argentina, that felt they have no chance to qualify, saw how Iceland fail to defeat Nigeria and gave them some hope. The fans can barely believe that La Albiceleste can do something in this World Cup now, but what is football unless than believe making the impossible to possible?

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World Cup Preview: Argentina v Croatia

Who? Argentina - Croatia
Where? Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
When? June 21, 20:00 (CET local time)

Argentina (Yossi Medina)

The world is still waiting for the arrival of one of its best footballers. After missing the penalty kick against Iceland, a lot of doubts arose about the ability of Lionel Messi to lead Argentina for a second World Cup final in a row.

We need to remember that Messi was not the only player that played poorly last Saturday. The Argentinians looked nervous and barely could handle with the strong Icelandic defense. In the past, Argentina faced such challenges like games against Iran or Switzerland in the previous World Cup. Yet, back then they had the strength to keep and looking for the goal and in 2018 it seems that they lack it.

In order to change it, Jorge Sampaoli is expected to change the formation for this match. Unlike against Iceland, Argentina will use a front line of three, including Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero and Cristian Pavón. This change means that Ángel Di María is expected to start this game as a substitute.

If Argentina will fail to win against Croatia, the Albiceleste will be in an unusual situation with no wins after two group stage matches. Only once in the history Argentina started a World Cup campaign with such a record, it was in 1974 and Argentina qualified to the next stage only due to a better goal difference.

With all the pressure and the fact that Croatia believes in the opportunity to make a great result in this game, Argentina can feel that this game is a do or die match. Another bad result and the team will quickly become nervous, a win and Argentina will keep dreaming on their journey to Moscow. It's going to be a hard night for Argentina.

Croatia (Eden Roitfarb)

1.3.2006: Croatia and Argentina face in an international break friendly. One young Lionel Messi scores his first ever goal for the Albiceleste, yet the Croatians still won 3-2 on the night. Today, these two will square for a crucial game in the World Cup group stage. Undoubtedly, every Croatian would sign up for the same scenario from 12 years ago.

Besides Messi, only one player from that game is present in Russia 2018: Luka Modrić, which coincidentally marked his international debut. Modrić has similarly became the leader for his national team on the pitch and has played a massive part in Real Madrid’s 3 successive Champions League trophies. However, these credentials didn’t automatically earn him the love of Croatian fans, who do not appreciate his involvement in the local football corruption scandal, starred by former Dinamo Zagreb chief Zdravko Mamic. The tumultuous relationship between Modrić and the fans has known ups and downs, but after his man of the match performance and penalty goal against Nigeria, he might have softened up some of his critics. 

On the other hand, some internal turmoil sparked up in the Croatian camp after Saturday’s win: Striker Nikola Kalinić has been sent home after refusing to enter as a substitute vs Nigeria, perhaps due to frustration of not being in Zlatko Dalic’s starting 11. Croatian national teams were never known for maintaining a quiet atmosphere, and it is remained to be seen whether that might affect their progress. With that in mind, Croatia know their strengths. Exactly 2 years ago, they pulled out an impressive winning performance vs Spain during the Euros. Hopefully for them, they can reproduce that against a nervous Argentinian side.

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World Cup Preview: Argentina v Iceland

Who? Argentina - Iceland
Where? Otkritie Arena, Moscow
When? June 16, 15:00 (CET local time)

Argentina (Yossi Medina)

Argentina loves to play against debutants. In 1998 they played in an all-debutants group with Jamaica, Japan and Croatia, and they played also against Ivory Coast in 2006 and Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2014. Usually, their experience was enough to give them advantage against these teams.

In 2018, it's not so sure that Argentina is prepared well for the World Cup. They made only one warm-up game against Haiti and their second scheduled match against Israel, another weaker team, has been canceled after a large geo-political controversy. With such a poor preparation, Argentina arrived to Russia and hope to make it through.

Argentina suffered also injuries to two key players during the last weeks. The goalkeeper Sergio Romero had a knee injury and left the team with three goalkeepers that played a combined number of just 9 international caps. It seems that Jorge Sampaoli will choose Willy Caballero, who had a lot of experience in his club career but is a part of a World Cup squad for the first time in his career.

The second missing player is Manuel Lanzini. West Ham United midfielder left over after a knee ligament injury. The midfield has some great players such as Ángel Di María and Javier Mascherano but they will need to work hard to stable their line.

With all these problems, a whole nation will cheer for their Albiceleste heroes, hoping to see them lifting a trophy for the first time since 1993.

Iceland (Eden Roitfarb)

Welcome back Iceland! The Nordic Cinderella are back for their first ever World Cup, and by doing so they became the smallest ever nation to qualify with a population of only 350,000 people.

Yet, it’s those colorful characters that helped Iceland capture the hearts of the neutral fan in Euro 2016. Whether it was the powerful Viking Thunderclap performed together by the players & fans and that has been since adopted by many  teams, or whether because of commentator Guðmundur Benediktsson who famously screamed out his voice in games vs Austria and England (while even taking a jab against the Brits for Brexit), Iceland became the public’s number one darling that summer.

A new exciting prospect in Icelandic football is PSV Eindhoven’s Albert Guðmundsson, who is part of a family with rich footballing history. Albert scored a hattrick in a friendly vs Indonesia in January and became the fourth member of his family to score for the national team. His great-grandfather, who held the same name, played for Arsenal and AC Milan in the 1940’s and was later Minister of Finance. And his father? Well, that’s no other than memorable commentator Guðmundur Benediktsson who once was considered a big talent and played for the national team as well. Talk about a small world!

Perhaps it is time for Iceland to make even bigger headlines, as they start with the biggest challenge possible – a date with Argentina and Lionel Messi in Moscow. It would be interesting to see which Iceland we would see: The side that dominated a tough World Cup qualifying group, or the one that is struggling since and hasn’t won a single preparation friendly. One thing is definite, they would give it all and make life difficult for the best player in the world and his crew.

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World Cup Nostalgics: Best 5 Repeats at the Group Stage

The World Cup always brings us the feelings of great memories. Many games during the group stage will remind an old-fashioned World Cup clashes with the same teams. Here are some of these best repeats.

Sweden - Germany
1958 Semifinals 3:1 / 2018 Group F

In 1958, Germany was the reigning World Champions and they were two wins away from winning the title once again. 1:0 lead by Germany didn't made any change for the hosts feeling. Sweden managed to equalize during the first half and scored twice in the last with goals of Gunnar Gren and Kurt Hamrin. Sweden made history and qualified for their only final in the history. Can Sweden upset Germany once again?

Morocco - Portugal
1986 Group Stage 3:1 / 2018 Group B

In hot summer day at Guadalajara, Morocco and Portugal met while they knew that the winner will qualify for the next stage. Portugal were the favourites, but they didn't believe that Morocco will be in one of its best matches ever. Abderrazak Khairi scored a brace in the first half and Abdelkrim Merry added one more. The Atlas Lions won and Portugal found themselves being eliminated too early.
Portugal are once again on the lead, but will it be enough to defeat Morocco?

Brazil - Costa Rica
1990 Group Stage 1:0 / 2018 Group E

Costa Rica World Cup debut was a memorable campaign with wins against Scotland and Sweden and reaching the knockout stage. Nevertherless, one of its well known performances was actually at the defeat 0:1 against Brazil. In this match Costa Rica played with an unusual black and white shirts. The local crowd in the mythical Delle Alpi in Turin thought it a gesture for the local team, Juevetus, and it was enough to make Costa Rica as one of the most beloved team in the tournament.
May Costa Rica have another performance that will be enough to get support?

Argentina - Nigera
1994 Group Stage 2:1 / 2018 Group D

Argentina and Nigeria will meet for the fifth time in World Cup group stage, but none of the previous matches was as amazing as the first meeting in 1994. An early lead with a goal scored by Samson Siasia made the Argentinian a bit shockes. Only Claudio Caniggia could save the day for the Albiceleste and he scored twich before the half time whistle. These goals gave Argentina the win, but later both of the teams qualified for the knockout stage.
In 1994 they qualified together and it happened once again in 2014. What will be in 2018?

Spain - Portugal
2010 Round of 16 1:0 / 2018 Group B

Another Portuguese lost, this time against the eventual World Cup winners in that year, Spain. The only goal scored by David Villa was enough for a win in the Iberian Peninsula derby and to qualify for the quarterfinals. The interesting name in the list is Portugal manager in this match, Carlos Queiroz. In 2018, he will make a double repeat while he will meet Spain and Portugal as the head coach of Iran.
With tons of emotion, what will be the end of the Queiroz-Portugal-Spain trio in the next World Cup?

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