A battle of midfield generals

Amol Gokhale
Friday, 29 June 2018

Argentina face stern test against France in the Round of 16

When Lionel Messi is involved in the game, the battle upfront is technically lost as no one can come close to matching the genius that he is, but, one can win the war in other areas of the field.

When Argentina and France will go head to head in their Round of 16 match at Kazan Arena on Saturday, French coach Didier Deschamps will look to win the war by winning the battle in midfield.

None other than Diego Maradona, while in charge of his national team, once said that his team is all about Javier Mascherano and 10 others. It's been 15 years since Mascherano made debut in La Albiceleste colours and has been the indispensable part of the team ever since.

If one remembers, it was his last-ditch tackle that denied the Netherlands and Arjen Robben the place in 2014 finals. He's been doing what he does best - protect the back four for over the years, be it for the national side or Barcelona.

But, in 2018, it hasn't been the case. He almost cost them the place in Round of 16, when he conceded the penalty and had to go for reckless tackles to cover up the ground he had lost.

Bruised and bloodied image of him tells the whole story. Mascherano simply doesn't have enough fuel in the tanks, but he needs to push on, his side needs him.

Come Saturday, he will face enormous task when he will come up against seven-years his junior, 27-year-old midfield dynamite N'Golo Kante. Leicester City and Chelsea would agree how crucial the athletic midfielder was when they won the Premier League in 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Kante was named man-of-the-match in France's final group game against Denmark, the French press described the award as a recognition of the work the midfielder puts in.

A magical Messi goal or Antoine Griezmann strike could decide the tie at the end of the day, but if there's one battle that will decide the fate of the former champions is the midfield battle between Mascherano and Kante.

On basis of the pure form, it looks like Kante will win the midfield battle, but one cannot underestimate that on his day, no matter how much his powers have diminished, Mascherano will put on a show.

It is the small battles that you win to win the war and we have both on our hands in Kazan.

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