World Cup 2018

Uruguay 0-2 France: 5 Things we learned

 • by Mark Thompson
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France are through to the World Cup semi-finals after beating Uruguay 2-0.

A Raphaël Varane header and an Antoine Griezmann pile-driver – which Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, unfortunately, probably deserves an assist for – won it for Les Bleus.

It took 40 minutes for France to first find the net, Varane heading in a Griezmann cross. And then, on the hour-mark, it was Griezmann’s turn.

A run-of-the-mill France attack, a ball played across to the left shoulder of the box, acres of time to execute a driven shot. It swerved a yard in front of Muslera and squirmed through his hands like buttered soap – 2-0, and France never really got out of third gear. Still, here are five things we learned.

Close. Down. The. Shooter.

It wasn’t just Griezmann’s goal – about ten minutes later Corentin Tolisso had a shot from a similar area. The only difference was he curled it. Had he put his body through the ball, arrowing it with unpredictable late swerve towards goal, France could have had a third.

The space came from a narrow midfield, drawn across the pitch to deal with an attack on France’s right. The French switched it, a player finding space on the left, and the conservative Uruguayan back-line didn’t close them down.

It’s one of the swings and roundabouts of football tactics. Uruguay’s system has served them well so far, conceding fewer than two expected goals all tournament, but it came back to hurt them. It’s not their fault, as such. It’s not a gaping flaw, Death Star-esque, that was open to exploit, but it’s the reason Griezmann’s goal happened.

France forward Antoine Griezmann

France dull, but smart

The French may not have performed particularly well, and certainly weren’t as exciting as anyone hoped, but they were, at least, smarter.

Against a diamond in midfield, France switched the play in Uruguay’s half seven times, from flank to flank. That’s not something that’s often done, but France used it to good effect, finding space on either wing. It wasn’t exactly the kind of switch that led to Griezmann’s goal, but it’s the same principle.

Forget criticism, Lloris is a great keeper

Lloris had some doubters towards the end of last season. A couple of high-profile mistakes seemed to magic away the four or five great seasons he’s had between the sticks for Tottenham Hotspur.

But just before half-time he showed his superb reflexes, diving to save a header from Martín Cáceres. It looked in. It looked like an equaliser, minutes after France had taken the lead, but across Lloris came and then up he shot, putting Diego Godín off as the defender skied rebound.

And, as we saw with France’s second goal, a reliable stopper is a big help.

France forward Kylian Mbappé celebrates scoring against Argentina

Man-marking Mbappé is a thankless task

There are days, for all of us, where we’re given a task we might not fancy. A to-do list that makes us groan. But imagine being Diego Laxalt, tasked with doing a job on the most exciting teenage footballer in the world.

Kylian Mbappé has enough pace for five men. He’s The Flash if The Flash was taking it easy, and was French.

Imagine being Laxalt, Uruguay’s left-back, and knowing that you’ll have to spend all day up against him. Do you stick tight, do you drop off? When do you just hack him down?

Is possession football still dead?

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Not that France are one of the big ‘possession’ teams, but a lot has been made of ‘the death of possession football’. Germany, Spain, and Argentina struggled, didn’t you know? And they kept the ball – lots!

Of course, part of the reason they had so much of the ball was because they struggled in their matches, and their opponents were happy to let them have it. If the result’s going how you want, and your opponents are impotent – well, just let them be impotent.

Uruguay were one of the teams who went against this ball-loving trend, sitting back, being all ‘old-school’ and defensive-minded. So defensive-minded they offered very little in attack.

Fingers might be pointed at the absence of Edinson Cavani, but even his addition might not have improved things. The truth of possession is the truth of football. Whether you’ve got the ball or not, it’s what you do with it that counts.

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