France considers how to slow Messi in clash

KAZAN, Russia (AP) — 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 today in Kazan, has been misfiring since the start of the tournament, scoring just three goals in its group matches. But the French defense, marshalled 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 come to life during the 2-1 win over Nigeria in Argentina’s last group game, scoring an exquisite goal from a long pass over the defense. This goal aside, his teammates have been struggling to set him up properly.

“He is different with Argentina than with Barcelona,” Umtiti said. “He does not have the same players with him, and their way of playing is different but he has saved them on several occasions.”

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