ISTRA • France defender Samuel Umtiti will come up against Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi tomorrow, comforted by the fact that the Argentina star is more lethal for the Catalan giants.
The centre-back has been Messi's team-mate at the Nou Camp for two years, when the forward had Luis Suarez to carry some of the scoring burden.
With his national team, Messi is a bit more on his own - Gonzalo Higuain having notably not scored in his last eight outings with Argentina. He also has to deal with the weight of a whole nation expecting him to win the World Cup in what is likely to be his last shot at the biggest trophy in football.
"He is different with Argentina than with Barcelona," said Umtiti ahead of the last-16 tie. "He does not have the same players with him and their way of playing is different but he has saved them on several occasions.
"The Argentinians are tough on him, but he cannot do everything on his own."
Former France defender Marcel Desailly was more damning in his assessment of Messi in an Argentina shirt, and believes France can catch Argentina on the counter-attack at the Kazan Arena.
NOT AS POTENT AS BEFORE
Something is missing - is it unity, faith? Messi doesn't seem to fit into the collective. They (Argentina) are really struggling. Is it the system? Is there a certain spirit missing?
MARCEL DESAILLY, former France defender, on the Messi factor.
"We know Messi is great, but we're confused and sad for him. He is such a pure Barcelona product but, with Argentina right now, Messi's in a mess," he wrote in a blog for The Guardian yesterday.
"Something is missing - is it unity, faith? Messi doesn't seem to fit into the collective. They have so many talented strikers, so many skilful attacking players and yet they don't seem to know how to get the best out of them. They are really struggling. Is it the system? Is there a certain spirit missing?"
Umtiti, who is set to be paired with Real Madrid's Raphael Varane in defence, needs to be on top of his game against Messi if he is well supported by his team, which was not always the case in the group phase, when Argentina escaped with a last-gasp 2-1 win against Nigeria.
France qualified comfortably, albeit not convincingly, top of Group C and, if both sides have remarkable offensive qualities, they have yet to show their full potential.
But Messi, who opened the scoring against Nigeria, is the kind of player who can make the difference at any time and Les Bleus are well aware of that.
"Most of us know him because either we have played against him or play with him (at Barcelona)," reserve goalkeeper Steve Mandanda said. "We all know he is a player who can change the course of a game, he can do everything."
REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN