France have become the first team to advance to the World Cup semi-finals after overcoming the threat of South Americans Uruguay in Nizhny Novgorod. The stage was set for one of the bigger quarter-final games – the only one to feature two previous winners of the tournament – and Didier Deschamps’ men ultimately emerged comfortable victors. The result set up a semi-final tie against the winners of the other quarter-final being played on Friday, contested between Brazil and Belgium. This will be France’s first semi-final appearance since 2006 and has denied Uruguay the chance of their first tie in the final four since finishing fourth in 2010.
It took almost the entire first half to break the deadlock, with Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane glancing a header home from Antoine Griezmann‘s cross. The freekick routine leading to the goal was pretty textbook, and calmed the Europeans’ nerves going into the break. Griezmann himself would get his just rewards on the hour, when a speculative effort – which seemed fairly routine for Uruguayan stopper Fernando Muslera – managed to evade the Galatasaray keeper and hit the back of the net to double France’s lead, and ultimately secure their place in the final four. Uruguay were without injured striker Edinson Cavani – who has suffered a calf injury – and his absence showed, though they did come close to equalising right at the end of the first half.
Martin Caceres’ effort produced a fantastic save from France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, with defender Diego Godin skying over the rebound. In terms of match quality this game fell a level or two below France’s last-16 clash with Argentina, but Uruguay maintained their pressure and fought valiantly – but to no avail. As the match wore on there seemed less chance of them seriously threatening France’s goal, despite increasing their attacking numbers. Maximiliano Gomez replaced Cristhian Stuani in a fairly like-for-like swap just a couple of minutes before man-of-the-match Griezmann’s goal, while striker Jonathan Urretaviscaya was brought on in place of midfielder Nahitan Nández with 15 minutes or so left.
This approach did the job of increasing the pressure on the French defence, but Deschamps frankly got his tactics completely right this time. He has been criticised in France for some “conservative” play, but they nullified any threat possessed by Uruguay and inflicted their first defeat of this World Cup after an almost perfect first four games, winning all four and conceding just one goal. This was France’s fourth win from their five games, with THAT goalless draw against Denmark the only mark on their record. The semi-final will likely be their toughest test yet of course, but at this stage one would be unwise to bet against the French when they are playing any other team in the competition.
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