Kazan, Russia — Like any other team preparing to play Argentina, France faces the Lionel Messi question: How to stop the five-time world player of the year?
Unlike many of its rivals at the World Cup, though, France has an answer: a center-half pairing of Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti.
France, which plays Argentina for a spot in the quarterfinals Saturday in Kazan, has been misfiring since the start of the tournament, scoring just three goals in its group matches. But the French defense, marshaled by the pair of Spanish league players, has been solid, having conceded just once.
Umtiti knows Messi extremely well because he trains with the Argentina great at Barcelona on a day-to-day basis. Varane, a regular starter for Real Madrid, has vast experience of playing against Messi.
“I see him every day. It is very hard to stop him,” Umtiti said. “He’s got outstanding qualities.”
Asked if these defenders’ knowledge would give France an edge against the two-time World Cup champions, France coach Didier Deschamps said it could be useful.
“Hopefully I can give you a positive answer after the game,” Deschamps said. “Knowing him from the Spanish league will not make the difference, but having played against him, similar situations could repeat themselves.”
After a difficult start to the tournament, Messi scored a goal during the 2-1 win over Nigeria in Argentina’s last group game
Luis Suarez believes any rivalry he may have with Cristiano Ronaldo is limited to their club teams playing the last four years against each other in La Liga.
In other words, it won’t be Suarez vs. Ronaldo when Uruguay and Portugal meet in the World Cup round of 16 today, it’ll be team against team.
“When it comes to the rivalry with Ronaldo at club level that’s a different thing all together,” Suarez said Friday.
“This is a World Cup and of course we’re all defending and we’re all working for our national teams, and that’s the essential aspect.”
France vs. Argentina, 10 a.m. (Fox)
Uruguay vs. Portugal, 2 p.m. (Fox)
Spain vs. Russia, 10 a.m. (Fox)
Croatia vs. Denmark, 2 p.m. (Fox)
Brazil vs. Mexico, 10 a.m. (Fox)
Belgium vs. Japan, 2 p.m. (Fox)
Sweden vs. Switzerland, 10 a.m. (FS1)
Colombia vs. England, 2 p.m. (Fox)