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World Cup comes alive with two outstanding knockout ties

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Yes, the teams I wanted to win did both times, but still.

Uruguay v Russia: Group A - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

The group stage of the 2018 FIFA WorldCup (tm, just to make sure we all know FIFA is raking it in) was pleasing, but now we’re into the must-win matches. And what wonderful matches we had today.

France 4 Argentina 3

Villarreal connections: none at all.

Sideline battle: Jorge Sampaoli, all tattoos and muscles bulging out of a too-small Argentina t-shirt, versus Didier Deschamps, who looked as if he had dressed for another day in the office sitting at his desk.

Key moments/turning points: After a dreadful first half when they were lucky to be level, Argentina took a 2-1 lead. But then, this happened:

Remember when Spain won it all in 2010, and our right back was Villarreal’s own Juan Capdevila, who joked that he didn’t really belong with all those Barca and Madrid stars? Well, that’s Pavard—coincidentally, also a right back. (He plays for Stuttgart; I had no idea).

Player of the match: Mbappé. Won the penalty for the first goal and scored goals three and four.

Something to think about: France’s defense was pretty careless around the box—left too much space for shots and crosses. Uruguay will note that.

Final whistle: The match ended with an Argentina player getting in the way of another who was perfectly prepared to head the cross on target, which pretty much summed up Argentina’s World Cup.

++++++

Uruguay 2 Portugal 1

Villarreal connections: No current connections, but Godin and Cáceres are former Villarreal players (though Cáceres never played for us; see below)

Sideline battle: For Portugal, Fernando Santos. Patrolling the Portuguese touchline, he looked suitably despondent, ready to break into a fado at any time (fado: Portuguese song infused with a sentiment of resignation, melancholy, feeling of loss). Uruguay, Oscar Tabarez. Only world-class coach I know with a neurological condition that means he has to sit on the bench and needs a crutch to walk around.

Key moments/turning points: Portugal had already equalized and had Uruguay on the back foot. And then, a brilliant counterattack:

Player of the match: I’ll go with two. Cavani, of course. But how about Martin Cáceres? For those of you who don’t know his history: Villarreal signed him in 2007 from Defensor Sporting for roughly €1m; we loaned him to Recreativo Huelva, then in the first division, for a year. When he came back, Barcelona bought him from us for €16.5m; then for the next eight years, he did this bizarre Barcelona-Sevilla-Juventus dance. Juve released him in 2016 figuring he was done (he’s played with Hellas Verona and Lazio since).

Anyhow, he was simply outstanding as a right back in this match.

Something to think about: An early goal meant Uruguay could defend, what they do best. That said, this is not the Uruguay side of the 2008-2014 period. The midfield enforcers like Arevalo Rios have been replaced by a younger, more technically adept group of players like Nahitan Nandez and Lucas Torreira. However, they aren’t particularly fast. Cue Mbappé....

Final whistle: What the hell was going on? Apparently a possible handball in the box (yes, it was a handball,but by the attacking player!) was being reviewed. The review shouldn’t have kept the ref from blowing up for time at the appropriate moment, but then indicating the review was still in progress. Another VAR process glitch to work on.

Tomorrow: Spain take on Russia (Cheryshev!), while Croatia play Denmark.