NIZHNY NOVGOROD: France became the first team into the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup after a comparatively straightforward 2-0 win over Uruguay in Nizhny Novgorod.
French striker Antoine Griezmann was deservedly voted man of the match after creating the first goal for Rafael Varane and scoring the second himself with the unwitting help of Uruguayan goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.
Coach Didier Deschamps said: “We were the better team. I had six players already booked so I have evrbody clear for the next match so that is also important.
“The group phase was tough but many other big teams weren’t successful. We weren’t always at our best but we got through. Against Argentina in the second round we improved and to perform again today at a high level, showing our mettle, is good news for us.”
Uruguay, crucially weakened by the injury absence of centre-forward Edinson Cavani, began in positive mood. France, having resisted that early storm, created the clearest early chance. However Kylian Mbappe, two-goal hero against Argentina, was high over the bar when presented with a ‘free’ header in the 14th minute.
Minutes later Paul Pogba was high and wide with a long-range shot as France, missing Blaise Matuidi through suspension, began to command midfield.
That pressure was a contributing factor to Rodrigo Betancur collecting only Uruguay’s second yellow card of the finals for pulling back Corentin Tolisso. Antoine Griezmann delivered a right-wing free kick into the penalty spot where Rafael Varane strode forward to glance header beyond Muslera.
This was the first time Uruguay had been behind in the finals and only the second goal they had conceded. They almost levelled within minutes but French goalkeeper-captain Hugo Lloris made a brilliant full-stretch save from Martin Caceres’s header.
That stop proved crucial, coming as it did just before half-time.
Uruguay were then unable to force their way back into the game after the break and were killed off by a blunder from Muslera on the hour. Griezmann’s hopeful drive from 30 yards surprised the keeper who allowed the shot to bobble through his upraised hands and on into the net.
After that the result was never in doubt. Uruguay subsided into defeat with the only sparks being raised by a clash between Mbappe and Cristian Rodriguez which ended in yellow cards for both of them from Argentinian referee Nestor Pitana.
Uruguayan coach Oscar Washington Tabarez would not comment on his own future while conceding that France had been the better team. He said: “This dream comes to an end but we have new dreams which we will try to make come true. Many powerful countries left this tournament much earlier than we did. Let’s not be too dramatic, this is our reality.”