Didier Deschamps had no desire to answer a question about whether France could end up as champions. A man who knows what it takes to win a World Cup stubbornly refused to look too far into the distance. Yet the manager will be able to avoid that subject for only so long after France eased past Uruguay, courtesy of Raphaël Varane’s splendid header and an awful blunder by Fernando Muslera, to reach the World Cup semi-finals for the first time since 2006.
Growing in confidence all the time and blessed with outstanding individuals, there is something ominous about the way France have dispatched Argentina and now Uruguay, scoring six goals in the process and, perhaps most significantly, leaving the impression there is so much more to come. They did, however, get a helping hand and, unfortunately for Uruguay, it was an error that signalled the end of their World Cup.
Uruguay’s goalkeeper made one of those mistakes that tend to live with players for a long time, and only Muslera knows how Antoine Griezmann’s speculative shot ended up almost going through him. The shot dipped and swerved a little but Muslera was right behind it and got two hands to a ball that somehow dropped over the line. For Uruguay, trailing to Varane’s goal at that point and badly missing the injured Edinson Cavani in attack, there was never going to be a way back. Óscar Tabárez, their 71-year-old manager, was magnanimous enough to admit as much when he talked about “a very big distance between the teams”.
Uruguay will reflect on a potential turning point just before half-time, when Hugo Lloris produced an outstanding save to keep out a powerful downward header from Martín Cáceres and Diego Godín thumped the follow-up wide. Those two chances were rare sights of goal for a team outplayed for much of the game. Whether the outcome would have been different with Cavani on the pitch is impossible to say but there is no getting away from the fact Uruguay needed him. Luis Suárez chased lost causes and ran himself into the ground but the 31-year-old looked lost without Cavani by his side and offered little threat. Cristhian Stuani, the former Middlesbrough striker, started in Cavani’s place and was a substitution waiting to happen.
France had too much class for Uruguay all over the pitch and the only blemish on a comfortable victory was Kylian Mbappé’s play-acting. He is a wonderful talent and there was a surge of excitement whenever he was on the ball, yet the teenager ought to be embarrassed when he looks back on an incident involving Cristian Rodríguez midway through the second half.
Rodríguez barely touched the 19-year-old as he brushed past him, prompting the Uruguay players to react furiously when the France forward fell to the ground and rolled around in agony after Godín tried to help him to his feet. A melee followed and ended with Mbappé and Rodríguez being booked. Paul Pogba was doing plenty of pushing and shoving, along with several others, and Deschamps admitted he was concerned about the prospect of the Manchester United midfielder picking up the booking that would have ruled him out of the semi-final.
Although Uruguay had threatened to be awkward opponents in more ways than one – they had conceded once in their previous seven matches and play with so much grit and determination – it was a straightforward goal that allowed France to take the lead. Rodrigo Bentancur recklessly brought down Corentin Tolisso after being caught in possession and the punishment extended beyond the yellow card the Uruguay midfielder received.
From wide on the France right, Griezmann approached the ball, retreated and then stepped forward again before delivering an inswinging free-kick that seemed to catch Uruguay by surprise, perhaps because of the stutter in Griezmann’s run-up. Varane, timing his run perfectly, got across Stuani to send a glancing header into the far corner of the net. It was a terrific goal, perfectly placed, and particularly satisfying for Varane given what happened four years ago in Brazil, when France were eliminated 1-0 at the quarter-final stage and the Real Madrid defender allowed Mats Hummels to beat him to a header that proved to be the defining moment.Despite dominating possession, France had created little of note before Varane’s goal, although Mbappé should have put them ahead. Olivier Giroud, still looking for his first goal at this World Cup, set up Mbappé for a simple chance. Unmarked and only eight yards out, he seemed to mistime his jump and his header sailed over.
Although Lloris’s excellent save, diving low to his right to claw away that Caceres header from Lucas Torreira’s free-kick, gave France a warning, they were out of sight from the moment Griezmann scored his third goal of the World Cup. In space 25 yards out after receiving a square pass from Tolisso, Griezmann decided to chance his arm. Muslera, getting himself in a terrible tangle, was unable to keep it out and France were on their way to the last four.
Source : The Guardian