The knockout stages of the World Cup get underway on Saturday with two crunch last-16 encounters.
Each morning during the tournament we will bring you an overview of what is coming up…
Who’s playing today?
France v Argentina (Last 16) – Kazan, 3pm
Uruguay v Portugal (Last 16) – Sochi, 7pm
What’s the deal?
Forget cagey tactics and talk of permutations, with the group stage over, the road to Moscow stretches clearer ahead and the competition gets serious.
Saturday could be the final time we see Lionel Messi on the World Cup stage, unless the maestro can mastermind a win for Argentina against France, one of the pre-tournament favourites. Les Bleus must improve on their group-stage performances to show they are ready to emulate the class of 1998.
The winners of that first game will face the victors of an evening encounter in Sochi. Portugal, led by Cristiano Ronaldo, will be seeking to prove their European Championships win of two years ago was a stepping stone to a global superiority but a Uruguay side yet to concede a goal and featuring Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Godin will provide a stern test of Portuguese credentials.
Ones to watch…
Paul Pogba: The Manchester United midfielder was given a rest in France’s forgettable and goalless final group game against Denmark but is set to return to the starting line-up and has taken aim at boo-boys. “I don’t know if the boos only came from the French fans,” he said. “People wanted more spectacle. But our objective was to finish top of the group. I don’t know what people expect. We need everyone with us. Our fans are the 12th man. We need fans, not spectators.” Eyes will be on Didier Deschamps’ formation; Pogba was more influential in the 4-4-2 deployed against Peru.
Lionel Messi: Messi has never scored in the knockout stage of a World Cup but after he and Marcos Rojo hauled Argentina back from the brink – and with a lucky red ribbon stuffed into his sock – the Barcelona forward will be hoping to break that duck. Messi is the last Argentina player to score against France – back in a 2009 friendly – but he has still looked a world-weary figure in a ragged side. Defensive frailties, fragile confidence and tensions between Jorge Sampaoli and his squad remain but so does Messi’s majesty – as that technically stunning solo goal against Nigeria proved.
Cristiano Ronaldo: Like his great La Liga rival, Ronaldo has also failed to find the net in a World Cup knockout stage but the familiar man for the big stage will be gunning for fire Portugal to the last eight – and boost his Golden Boot chances in the process. He remains one goal behind England’s Harry Kane but is never shy of trying his luck, with 15 efforts at goal just one behind tournament leader Neymar’s 16. Uruguay will be wary of set-piece threat, too – Ronaldo has drawn 13 fouls so far.
Also look out for…
Messi and Ronaldo have both picked up cautions during the group stage; another before the semi-final stage and they could miss a crucial knockout tie.
Bookings are scrubbed from players’ records after the quarter-finals, though, meaning no one will go into the semi-final fearing a yellow could end their hopes of appearing in a World Cup showpiece.
England prepare, Delph absent
After a rest day on Friday, England will return to training in Repino ahead of Tuesday’s last-16 tie with Colombia. Fabian Delph has left the camp temporarily, though, with his wife due to give birth to their third child.
Facing the media
Spain, Russia, Croatia and Denmark will hold news conferences ahead of their last-16 games on Sunday. Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea’s form could be on the agenda again after stinging criticism back home. Midfielder Thiago Alcantara has already defended De Gea, insisting he is working “like an animal”.
Stat of the day
Since the introduction of the round of 16 in 1986, France have always made it past that stage whenever they have reached it (1986, 1998, 2006, 2014).
On this day
Football came home for Euro ’96 but the trophy went to England’s old rivals Germany, who beat the Czech Republic with a golden goal in the Wembley final. It was the first major tournament to be decided that way and was the first major competition won by the unified Germany team.