France 4-3 Argentina is part of 90min's 20 Greatest Matches of the Decade series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next few weeks.
It is rare that a football match fully lives up to its
Once it became clear who would face whom in the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup following the group stages, there was an obvious standout fixture: France vs Argentina.
Almost buckling under the weight of expectation, both of these international titans scraped through to the second round of the world's stellar tournament after underwhelming group campaigns, and consequently one would be heading home much earlier than anticipated.
Les French - favourites before the tournament - had toiled to victories over Australia and Peru before being held by Denmark, while Argentina somehow survived despite a turgid group phase that saw them collect just four points from a pool containing Croatia, Nigeria and Iceland. However, progress to the next round meant a fresh start and a chance for either nation to take a statement scalp in Kazan and build for a potential tournament win.
It transpired to be a match which - to use the old cliché - had pretty much everything, and will be remembered for four astounding footballing moments.
France would draw first blood, Kylian Mbappé burning a hole in the Argentine defence with his searing pace, dribbling from his own half before being hauled to the ground in the box by cumbersome Man Utd defender Marcos Rojo who, let's be honest, stood no other chance of stopping the flying Frenchman. The penalty was converted with aplomb by Antoine Griezmann, but the manner in which it was won will live long in the memory.
Momentous moment number two arrived as Angel di Maria added to his burgeoning backlog of outstanding goals to equalise in the 41st minute. Having been afforded space 25 yards out, the winger took a touch, took aim and unleashed an unstoppable strike into top righthand corner of Hugo Lloris' goal. Perhaps most satisfying of all was the sound of the Adidas Telstar ball audibly whipping the back of the net milliseconds before the crowd erupted.
Lionel Messi's shot was deflected home by Gabriel Mercado to give Argentina the lead early in the second period, but it was a lead that was short-lived. Cue the greatest moment of the match, and the goal that was deemed the best of the tournament in a competition that was blessed with numerous beautiful strikes.
Breaking down the left, France full-back Lucas Hernandez delivered a first-time cross that evaded everyone and seemed be heading harmlessly out of play on the far side. Enter Benjamin Pavard; the defender steamed onto the ball and thwacked it with his right boot, redefining the term 'swazz' as he sent the ball spinning and spiralling into the side of Franco Armani's net. Pandemonium ensued.
Kylian Mbappé gave France the lead once again through a more routine finish in the 64th minute. "Watch out world, there's a new number 10 about," Guy Mowbray bellowed on the BBC's commentary. He may wish he had saved that soundbite for four minutes later, though, as Mbappé emulated Carlos Alberto's infamous strike at the 1970 World Cup for Brazil.
Olivier Giroud played the role of Pélé, slipping the ball into the path of the prodigal son who was careering down the right flank. Rather than spank the ball past the keeper á la Alberto, the teenager delivered an unerring sidefoot that curled sumptuously into the bottom corner - *kisses fingers like a chef* - and the game was won, despite a late consolation from the head of Sergio Aguero.
While the margin of victory was slim, the connotations were great. Les Bleus finally found the impetus that would fuel a charge to the World Cup final via victories over Uruguay and Belgium, and glory in Moscow against Croatia 20 years on from their last success - this time with Didier Deschamps in the dugout rather than on the pitch.
For Argentina, the relatively early exit brought an end to Jorge Sampaoli's unsuccessful stint as national team coach, but more significantly it perhaps signalled the end of Lionel Messi's hopes of winning the top international prize.
The world's best player was left to pick up the pieces of a devastating defeat in his national team colours once again, and his luck would not improve a year on at the Copa America as the
As well as being a worthy World Cup encounter, France 4-3 Argentina was ultimately the parting of ways of two national teams on completely different trajectories. While Argentina's top heavy squad fell well short of what was required, France have a myriad of young talent and are well capable of winning the next two major tournaments at least. For Argentina - as there was for France in 2010 - there must be a changing of the guard with a view to the future.
Living up to its billing to the fullest extent, this encounter encapsulated the abiding memories of a wonderful tournament in Russia in 2018; drama, wonderful goals and moments of extraordinary individual ability. It