France’s counterattacking speed was too much for Argentina in an entertaining, messy (but not necessarily Messi) affair.
France played their familiar 4-4-2/4-3-3 hybrid system. When in the defensive phase, Griezmann and Giroud played as a strike pair and watched the centrebacks and passes into Mascherano. Matuidi, Kante, Pogba, and Mbappe dropped into a line of four midfielders and France defended in two relatively compact banks of four in a mid block. When France possessed the ball, Griezmann drifted wider, Matuidi pulled inside into his natural midfield position, and Mbappe pushed higher into the attacking line, with both fullbacks also bombing on, creating a positive 4-3-3 system.
As thoroughly covered by Spielverlagerung here, Argentina had been attempting to get the best out of Messi by playing with two natural sources of width in Pavon and di Maria with a forward ahead to occupy the centrebacks. However, for this match, Messi was a false nine on his own and Pavon and di Maria still played as wingers stretching the play, rather than bursting into the space that Messi left behind when he drifted deep. They were toothless from open play with no players attempting runs into goalscoring positions until the introduction of Aguero in a strike role as they returned to their earlier system.
Quite simply, with the centrebacks concerned about Giroud and Griezmann and Mascherano being unable to keep up with Mbappe physically, the PSG man was utterly unstoppable. He burst through the entire Argentine defense to win the first penalty and could have won a second penalty in the first half before scoring twice in the second half, once off of a scuffed shot that the Argentine keeper Armani made a hash of at the near post, and once off of a lovely France move that flowed from one end of the pitch to the other.
Another problem for Argentina was that di Maria and Pavon were failing to track the French fullbacks. In the second half when the game was still in the balance, both Hernandez and Pavard bombed forward unopposed, and in a perfect illustration of Argentina’s defensive indiscipline, Hernandez crossed from acres of space all the way across the pitch for Pavard to thump in France’s equalizer after a pair of relatively fluky Argentine goals (in tactical terms).
The introduction of Aguero in the striker’s role immediately gave Argentina more punch, though it is understandable he was omitted initially in fear of being overrun in the midfield. His goal from a Messi looped cross both illustrated the virtue of the earlier Argentine system (Messi has an option ahead to pick out) and made the last minutes of extra time nervy and scrappy.
Argentina are rightfully out, having failed to cohesively meld their attacking players and having played too high a defensive line with little midfield pressure against Mbappe. France played very well on the counterattack, but one wonders if their lack of a tempo setting passing midfielder will be a problem against either Portugal or Uruguay, both of which will probably be happier to absorb pressure and hit on the counterattack themselves.