Didier Deschamps’ side were unable to show off their attacking verve as they did in the 4-3 win over Argentina, but found a way to beat a tough rival
Pretty play does not win World Cups. At least not any more. And that, on Friday’s evidence, is perhaps good news for France.
Didier Deschamps’ side should have a major trophy in their collection already, but were beaten by a pragmatic Portugal team in the final of Euro 2016 in Paris. And the worry for their fans was that something similar could happen here against a streetwise Uruguay outfit.
France’s flair in the fantastic 4-3 win over Argentina in the last 16 was missing in this quarter-final match, although that was always likely to be the case. Uruguay are masters at defending deep and squeezing spaces against superior sides. Their gameplan is not new, but it remains as effective as ever.
Asked whether La Celeste could go all the way to the title in the pre-match press conference on Thursday, Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said: “We are always the underdogs.”
For his part, Deschamps said he was preparing his starting line-up for the possibility of facing Edinson Cavani, even though the Paris Saint-Germain striker was injured against Portugal on Saturday.
Cavani did not warm up and was listed as injured. In his place, Tabarez handed a start to Girona forward Cristhian Stuani, but in a team with few stars, the PSG man was badly missed and Luis Suarez increasingly isolated in his absence.
Uruguay effectively reduced the contest to a game of set-pieces and their strategy worked for a while, although Raphael Varane heading home an Antoine Griezmann free-kick will not have been part of the plan.
France, having failed to score in any of their past five fixtures against Uruguay, went in ahead, yet their football was still somewhat underwhelming. Denied the space they had against Argentina, the movement was often too slow, the passing predictable.
France also had Hugo Lloris to thank for a spectacular save from Martin Caceres, with Diego Godin blasting wide from the rebound. That was the closest Uruguay came, with La Celeste feeding off scraps in the second half without Cavani.
And, just when it looked like the South Americans might get back into it in the second period, Fernando Muslera fumbled a long-range Griezmann effort and the ball ended up in the net to make it 2-0, the Galatasaray goalkeeper’s gaffe coming almost on the same spot at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium as Willy Caballero’s clanger for Argentina against Croatia.
That killed off the game and, although it was not champagne football from France, Les Bleus found the unity and fight that has so often been lacking in the past and against Brazil or Belgium in the last four, they should find much more space for their stars to exploit.