France and Denmark played out a convenient 0-0 draw on Tuesday afternoon, as both teams collected the point they needed to advance to the knockout stage of the World Cup. It was by far the dullest match of the tournament so far and it is hard to make definitive judgments of either side given the circumstances around it, but it is certainly fair to say that France have not looked completely convincing in Russia up to now.
A muddled display against Australia was fortunate to bring a 2-1 win – Les Bleus had to rely upon a VAR-awarded penalty and a fortuitous own goal to see off the Socceroos – before a 1-0 victory over Peru in which Didier Deschamps’ side started brightly but faded massively after the break, and could easily have thrown away their lead against a team taking part in their first World Cup for 36 years.
Argentina’s group stage was even more eventful and turbulent, with Marcos Rojo’s late winner against Nigeria on Tuesday night lifting the two-time world champions from fourth spot to second in Group D. Their campaign began with a stuttering 1-1 draw with Iceland, in which star man Lionel Messi missed a penalty and was relied upon to an astonishing degree to create chances in open play.
The nadir came a few days later as Croatia ran out 3-0 winners against the Albiceleste to leave them on the brink, with Argentina’s performance a reflection of how far they have fallen in recent years. Yet Jorge Sampaoli’s side succeeded in coming back from the brink with a triumph over Nigeria, as Messi delivered a dazzling first-half display and Ever Banega provided some much-needed creativity in the centre of midfield.
There are still numerous flaws within this side, but the nature of their victory over the Super Eagles will give Argentina belief going forward.
France deserve their tag of favourites at top football bookies for this one, and there is certainly far greater balance to their team than Argentina’s. It is hard to overstate the positive impact Tuesday’s win will have on Messi and his team-mates, however, and it could be worth backing them to spring a surprise against a France team who still seem to be less than the sum of their parts.
With Karamba offering a meaty 12/5 on Sampaoli’s side emerging victorious, it would be wise to put some money on a minor upset occurring at the Kazan Arena on Saturday afternoon.
Uruguay advanced to the knockout phase of the World Cup with maximum points, although that does not really tell the fully story of their exploits in Group A. La Celeste were underwhelming in their first two outings in Russia, 1-0 victories over Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and struggled to control either game.
There was a huge improvement when Oscar Washington Tabarez shifted to a 4-4-2 diamond formation for his side’s final encounter, though, with Uruguay running out 3-0 winners against the hosts to take top spot in the section.
Portugal looked on course to finish first in Group B, but a late concession against Iran (as well as Iago Aspas’ stoppage-time strike for Spain against Morocco) saw them drop down to second spot. Like Uruguay, their displays have also been mixed so far: a phenomenal individual performance from Cristiano Ronaldo earned them a draw against Spain, before a header from the Real Madrid man saw the European champions collect all three points against Morocco despite an uninspiring all-round showing.
There is plenty of room for improvement, then, but Portugal know that another Ronaldo masterclass would probably be enough to take them through to the quarters.
This is unlikely to be a particularly entertaining affair, with both teams preferring to sit back, get men behind the ball and spring forward at speed on the counter-attack. There is a great deal of grit and pragmatism in both sides, which could lead to a scrappy, stop-start game punctuated by numerous fouls and stoppages.
An early goal would perhaps open things up and force either Uruguay or Portugal to come out and play, but otherwise it is hard to look past a low-scoring tie. A price of 6/4 (888sport) on under 1.5 goals being scored looks like excellent value given the fact that coaches Tabarez and Fernando Santos tend towards a cautious approach in big games. Karamba’s23/20 on no first-half goals is also appealing, while over 4.5 cards is an alternative wager at 5/4 (888sport).