Argentina are looking to put their tricky World Cup start behind them against 1998 winners France in the last 16 on Saturday.
A 1-1 draw with minnows Iceland and a humbling 3-0 defeat to Croatia left the 2014 finalists on the verge of elimination, but a 2-1 win over Nigeria saw Argentina through in second place.
Jorge Sampaoli’s position was reportedly in doubt before that crucial Nigeria victory, but the Argentina coach is now looking forward to playing 1998 winners France in the last-16.
“We are going to play against a team with great individual players,” Sampaoli said. “They are among the very best contenders and we will need to be very consistent to come out on top of a very difficult match.”
After Argentina’s victory over Nigeria, Sampaoli headed to the dressing room without celebrating alongside his players, but Lionel Messi went over to hug his coach before he departed in a show of unity with the under-fire manager.
“Leo’s gesture with me makes me proud. He knows all the passion I put into everything I do,” Sampaoli said. “We share the dream of coming to Russia to achieve something important for Argentina.”
Much has been made of Messi’s influence on the Argentina side, but France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris rejected suggestions they were a one-man outfit.
He said: “There is so much expectation around Messi, which I think is normal, but still I think the Argentina team has a lot to show.
“They have had difficult times and still have been able to qualify. I am sure they will feel like going much further in the competition, they have won the World Cup before.
“This is going to be a big match, and a difficult one, we are going to have to step up our level.”
Benjamin Mendy will miss out for France through injury, having come off the bench in their dead rubber with Denmark last time out.
There are no new concerns for Argentina, who could name the same side that beat Nigeria to qualify for the last-16.
- France and Argentina will be facing each other for the 12th time. The South Americans hold the upper hand with six wins to two (D3), keeping a clean sheet in eight of their previous 11 encounters with the French.
- Argentina have won their two World Cup encounters with France, back in 1930 (1-0) and 1978 (2-1). On both occasions, they reached the final, losing it in 1930 and winning in 1978.
- The last South American team to beat France at the World Cup were Argentina in 1978. Since then, France are unbeaten in eight World Cup fixtures against CONMEBOL opposition (W4 D4).
- Argentina have gone past the first round for the 12th time in their last 13 World Cup appearances, the only exception coming in 2002. Their last four knockout games in the tournament have produced only three goals (2 goals for, 1 against).
- Since the introduction of the round of 16 in 1986, France have always made it past that stage whenever they’ve reached it (1986, 1998, 2006, 2014).
- Messi has never scored in the knockout stages of the World Cup: 666 minutes, 0 goals. He is the last Argentinean player to score against France, back in February 2009 in a friendly (2-0).
- Lionel Messi is the third Argentinian player to have scored in three different World Cup tournaments, alongside Diego Maradona (1982, 1986, 1994) and Gabriel Batistuta (1994, 1998, 2002).
- France’s Olivier Giroud has failed to score in his last 357 minutes at World Cup/Euro, his longest drought at major tournaments, with his last goal dating back to the Euro 2016 quarter-final against Iceland. He’s yet to register a shot on target at this year’s World Cup, having spent 200 minutes on the pitch.