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France dispatches Uruguay in game of two keepers, advances to World Cup semis

In the end, it was convincing. For 90 minutes, though, it was formless war. For 90 minutes, France’s World Cup quarterfinal showdown with Uruguay on Friday fell right in line with expectations. It was choppy, as opposed to rhythmic. It was predictably tight.

The first of four 2018 World Cup quarters spent most of its existence crying out for a difference-maker, as a game of such fine margins so often does.

And either side of halftime, two goalkeepers stepped up.

Or, rather, one stepped up and one sunk. France beat Uruguay 2-0 to advance to the semifinals. And above all else, it has the two men at either end of the field to thank.

Hugo Lloris rose to the occasion at one end. Uruguay’s Fernando Muslera did just the opposite at the other. Two moments of brilliance, and a third of misfortune, have Les Bleus two wins away from a second World Cup title.

Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Raphael Varane celebrate one of their two goals in France’s World Cup quarterfinal victory over Uruguay. (AP)

A game of set pieces and goalkeepers

The truncated story of the first half was one of two set pieces, two headers and one majestic save. The full story was one of French patience and Uruguayan frustration. But we’ll begin with the two decisive moments.

Raphael Varane put France ahead five minutes before halftime with an excellent flick into the far corner of the Uruguayan net.


The free kick routine had been rehearsed, Antoine Griezmann’s hesitation planned, Varane’s run and leap timed to perfection. As far as set pieces go, it was a wonderful goal.

Minutes later, at the other end, Martin Caceres almost answered. His header had eyes for the same far corner. But Lloris had a springy dive and a big right hand for it to keep the game at 1-0:

Whereas Lloris kept France in front – not only with the save, but by putting off Diego Godin on the rebound – his opposite number was eventually at fault when France doubled the lead.

Uruguay battles, but doomed without Cavani

La Celeste started strong. They snapped into tackles, and built the occasional attack organically. There was combination play among midfielders and strikers. The end product never materialized, but the foundation was sound.

On the other side of the ball, Kylian Mbappe remained in special form. He glided past Uruguay midfielders just like he had Argentinean ones, exploding from stationary to full speed like very few others can. But after he would beat one or two Uruguayan players on the right, a third would step in to halt his progress.

Mbappe squandered the first real chance of the game. Olivier Giroud’s cushioned knock-down header found the teenager unmarked eight yards from goal. But he almost seemed to panic, and rather than taking the ball on his chest, he mistimed his jump and looped a flaccid header over the bar.

As the half wore on, the balance of the game tipped toward France. Luis Suarez became increasingly isolated. And Edinson Cavani’s calf injury, which kept him out of what might have been his final World Cup game, loomed increasingly large.

Cristhian Stuani, the Cavani replacement, ruined one potential 2-v-1 break with a terrible first-time pass. With Cavani absent, Uruguay’s link between midfield and attack became more and more flimsy as the game progressed.

As it did, Uruguay resorted to its rigidity and roughhousing. But one yellow card foul from Rodrigo Bentancur gave France the free kick that changed the game.

Uruguay’s recovery interrupted by goalkeeping howler

In the second half, France’s ambition waned. The onus was on Uruguay to find a spark. And gradually, it began to rise back into the game.

But around the hour mark, thoughts of a comeback were scuttled by Muslera. He flapped at a swerving Griezmann shot, inadvertently flipping it back into his own net:


It was effectively the end of Uruguay’s tournament. Down two and heading for elimination, the progressive attacking gave way to so-called “s—housery” – to arguments and scuffles and exasperation.

[Watch: Kylian Mbappe’s embarrassing flop vs. Uruguay]

Why France is a title threat

France was never dominant – not before its opener, nor afterward. It rarely has been in Russia. But anybody waiting for comprehensive, cohesive brilliance is missing the point.

France isn’t the second-best team remaining because it seizes games and never lets go; it doesn’t do that. It has been and still is a favorite because it has more difference-makers than anybody. It has more players who’ll win on the margins. In the group stage, it was Paul Pogba. In the Round of 16, it was Mbappe. Friday, it was Lloris, Varane and Griezmann.

One has to wonder if Friday would have been different with Cavani, one of Uruguay’s few difference-makers, fit. It very well might have been. In those 40 minutes of balance before the Varane header, Cavani very well could have made a splash.

But France won’t be wondering. Les Bleus are on to the semifinals to face either Brazil or Belgium.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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