Dubai: It was party time for France in Nizhny Novgorod on Friday as they were the first team to book their place in the World Cup semi-finals at the expense of Uruguay.
Raphael Varane grabbed the opening goal France craved on 40 minutes with a fine header from a free-kick, and self-confessed lover of all things Uruguayan Antoine Griezmann made it 2-0 in the second half thanks to an error from goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, who let a harmless looking shot slip from his grasp and spin over the line.
Uruguay’s star striker Edinson Cavani was ruled out of the clash with a calf muscle injury he sustained in the 2-1 win over Portugal last Saturday, when the Paris Saint-Germain forward scored both goals. He was replaced by Cristhian Stuani.
France also had to make a change, bringing in Corentin Tolisso because of Blaise Matuidi’s suspension.
A nervy and cagey opening period sprang to live when young France forward Kylian Mbappe got the first real chance.
Benjamin Pavard crossed to Olivier Giroud in the area and the Chelsea man nodded the ball to the unmarked Mbappe. The Paris St-Germain, with all the time in the world, fluffed his lines and his tame header landed harmlessly on the roof of the net.
The boisterous crowd was clearly behind the Uruguayans as whistles rang out as France continued to control possession in the middle.
Rodrigo Bentancur picked up his and Uruguay’s second yellow card of the tournament on 40 minutes for clattering Corentin Tolisso and earned a theoretical semi-final suspension.
Seconds later France were ahead. A free-kick from Antoine Griezmann was weighted to perfection from the right and Varane powered into the danger area to head across the goal of Muslera and into the far corner of the net.
Uruguay were so close to being level before the break, but France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was at his alert and agile best to save one-handed from Martin Caceres’ header before Diego Godin put the rebound over.
Uruguay pushed forward in search for an equaliser after the interval, but France continued to control the tempo.
And Muslera will hate to see the replays of his top-class howler that gave Les Bleus a two-goal advantage after 62 minutes.
Manchester United’s Paul Pogba drove forward from halfway and played in Griezmann, who tried his luck from distance. With Muslera right behind the shot, it looked like a wasted chance, but it slipped through his fingers and into the goal.
While the whole of France went wild, Griezmann refused to celebrate — probably due to his love of the country.
A lot of the talk before this game was of Uruguay’s staunch and stingy defence, but if anything they were looking weaker by the minute and Griezmann almost made it 3-0 just before the regulation 90 minutes were up as his free-kick fizzed just over the bar.
But it mattered little as Didier Deschamps’ men marched on and the South Americans were sent packing.