The first quarter-final showdown of the 2018 FIFA World Cup ended in a 2-0 victory for France against a hopeful Uruguay.
Raphael Varane opened the scoring in the 40th minute, nodding home Antoine Griezmann’s indirect free-kick with precision.
Just past the hour mark, Griezmann himself bore down on goal, finding the back of the net thanks to a howler from Uruguayan goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.
La Celeste worked the ball around well at times, but found themselves looking increasingly defeated as time wore on.
Muslera continues goalkeeper woes
It has been a torrid few months for the world’s elite goalkeepers. Unfortunately for Uruguay and their No.1, the curse was extended in Nizhny.
Griezmann, who had lined up a shot from distance, was shocked to see it end up in the net, as Muslera fumbled it and could not recover.
To his credit, Griezmann did not celebrate. Much was made of his personal connection to the opposition, and this mark of respect for the veteran Galatasaray gloveman and his countrymen was a welcome moment.
Uruguayan chances go begging
Even with Edinson Cavani sitting injured in the dugout, the South Americans were not without firepower. Luis Suarez and Christian Stuani, however, were unable to provide clinical finishing.
Chances came often for Uruguay but they were not made to count. In this level of football, that degree of lax attacking is generally punished.
There is a growing sense that Uruguay are the perpetual bridesmaids, always one step away from the limelight. They were not miles off of France’s quality, but just enough to fall short.
France display their versatility
In their Round of 16 clash against Argentina, the French forward line had a field day. Les Bleus had far too much in the way of pace and technique.
Against Uruguay, however, the outlook was different. Kylian Mbappé – so influential in the previous round – was effectively nullified by the Uruguayan defenders, forcing the French to adopt other methods. Their tactical changes at half-time worked a charm.
The goals from Varane and Griezmann did little to showcase European attacking talent, but the entire team’s ability to adapt and depart with a crucial victory will be well received by supporters.
Diving draws attention
Simulation is fast becoming even more of a cliche in football. In a week where Neymar’s antics caught the attention of international media outlets, the last thing the game needed was another soft pratfall. And yet, Mbappé managed to give us exactly that.
As the prodigal Frenchman flopped to the grass, furious players circled around him. Shouting, grabbed shirts, and yellow cards followed. Replays revealed the extent of Mbappé’s theatrics.
Thankfully, the world of football has mostly moved on from the outright assaults seen in the days of players like Graeme Souness. But the ‘diving’ – a handy euphemism – has a much subtler ability to bring the game into disrepute.
Are France now the favourites?
This time last year, Didier Deschamps’ men would have been somewhat far down the list of favourites to take home the FIFA World Cup trophy. Their opening game against Australia would not have assured the masses back in France. One by one, however, they have watched those above them fail – Germany, Argentina, and Spain, to name but a few.
Mbappé and Griezmann have led the way to a serious charge. The former’s blistering takedown of star-studded Argentina has been a highlight of the tournament. At the back, players like Hugo Lloris are also solid performers.
English fans may be convinced that football is “coming home”, as are the Brazilians and the Belgians, but it is certainly conceivable that the cup might be seen in Paris at the end of the summer.