Antoine Griezmann earns an 8 as France reach World Cup semi-finals with Uruguay win

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Antoine Griezmann starred for France.

France booked their spot in the World Cup semi-finals after an impressive 2-0 win over Uruguay thanks to goals from Raphael Varane and Antoine Griezmann.

Les Bleus put in a professional performance to reach the last four for the first time since 2006.

Here’s a look at how the players rated.

STARTING XI

Hugo Lloris 9 – An assured presence throughout and pulled off a stunning save to preserve France’s lead at 1-0.

Benjamin Pavard 7 – Didn’t make as spectacular an intervention as he had against Argentina, but Pavard still enhanced his reputation with a solid defensive display.

Raphael Varane 8 – A superb run and header for France’s opener, and a stable presence in Les Bleus’ back line.

Samuel Umtiti 6 – The Barcelona defender looked shaky at times coming up against club colleague Luis Suarez, although he ultimately helped limit the Uruguayan’s impact.

Lucas Hernandez 7 – There was plenty of pre-match talk about Atletico Madrid defenders, and one did shine – Hernandez outplayed club-mates Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez.

Paul Pogba 8 – Ran the show for France as he continued to show that he can play in a midfield two, contrary to popular belief.

N’Golo Kante 8 – As industrious, energetic, and unassuming as ever. Kante provided the perfect foil to Pogba and helped his defence weather a few Uruguay storms.

Kylian Mbappe 7 – Uruguay didn’t give him the chance to show off his famous pace, so he brought his other qualities to the fore in a skillful, trickery filled display that wound up the opposition.

Antoine Griezmann 8 – Fortunate with his goal, but was a menacing presence throughout, and his free-kick delivery for Varane’s goal was inch-perfect.

Corentin Tolisso 7 – The Bayern Munich man made sure banned Blaise Matuidi wasn’t missed on the left of France’s midfield, although whether he retains a starting place remains to be seen.

Olivier Giroud 7 – Giroud is still looking for his first goal at this World Cup, but his impact as a focal point for France’s attack is immeasurable – as it was again on Friday.

SUBSTITUTES

Steven N’zonzi N/A – Came on for Tolisso to help France kill the game as they sat on a 2-0 lead.

Ousmane Dembele N/A – His introduction for Mbappe was one of the most expensive substitutions ever, going by the two players’ respective transfer fees. But Dembele had little time to make an impact.

Nabil Fekir N/A – Came on right at the end for the impressive Griezmann, with no chance to do anything of note.

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France ease into semi-finals of 2018 World Cup with 2-0 victory over Uruguay

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France players celebrate Antoine Griezmann's fortunate strike to make it 2-0.

France will face either Belgium or Brazil in the World Cup semi-finals after recording a 2-0 win over Uruguay in Nizhny Novgorod.

Antoine Griezmann’s pinpoint free-kick was glanced in by Raphael Varane midway through the first half as France took the lead.

Atletico Madrid forward Griezmann then scored a second early in the second half but La Celeste stopper Fernando Muslera hung his head in shame as he allowed Griezmann’s tame effort to slip through his grasp.

That sucked the life out of the South Americans, who were unable to find a way back into the game, as Les Bleus held on.

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Russia and Croatia both chasing history ahead of World Cup quarter-final clash

Matt Jones 6/07/2018
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Russia take on Croatia for a place in the semi-finals of the World Cup, with both nations chasing history.

Russia have only once made the last four, finishing fourth more than 50 years ago in 1966. Croatia, meanwhile, stunned everyone when they finished third on their World Cup bow in 1998 – they’d only been a fully-fledged country for five years.

Here, we look at three talking points ahead of the game.

CAN THE HOSTS CEMENT HERO STATUS?

Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev saves Iago Aspas' penalty that sent Spain home.

Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev saves Iago Aspas’ penalty that sent Spain home.

Russia came into the tournament with their fans legitimately wondering if their team would surpass South Africa as the only host nation never to emerge from the group stage.

Three weeks on, they’re dreaming of emulating the great Soviet Union side led by the legendary Lev Yashin that finished fourth in England more than half a century ago.

Stanislav Cherchesov’s side have already captured the hearts of their nation – and many others – by their run to the quarter-finals. This is historic in itself as the last eight has not been breached since 1970.

In the intervening years and 11 tournaments that have since passed, Russian football has slowly descended into ruin and chaos.

Disqualified four years later after refusing to travel for the second leg of their play-off against Chile as a result of the 1973 Chilean coup d’etat, they have failed to qualify for four more.

When they have been present, they have offered little. The second group stage and round of 16 were reached in 1982 and 1986. Four group-stage exits have bookended Russia’s last four tournaments (1990, 1994, 2002 and 2014).

They have already surpassed expectations. They now have a very presentable opportunity to transform themselves from scolded child, to earning parity with legends and the praise of mother Russia.

CROATIA’S CONUNDRUM

Croatia have been excellent in Russia, but were uninspiring against Denmark.

Croatia have been excellent in Russia, but were uninspiring against Denmark.

They’ve played some exquisite football en route to the knockout stages, but the Croatian craft so evident during the group stage was conspicuous by its absence in the round of 16 against Denmark.

So impressive as they swept to three wins and nine points to top Group D, that 3-0 mauling of 2014 finalists Argentina particularly memorable, but Zlatko Dalic’s side were equally as uninspiring in shuffling past the great Danes.

This is despite the fact there was not a mammoth differential in the stats from the last 16 game and three in the group.

Their 80-per-cent pass success rate was akin to their three previous wins (86, 76 and 79 versus Iceland, Argentina and Nigeria respectively). They actually played more key passes (13) than in any other game – yet the only one that springs to mind is Luka Modric’s laser-beam ball through to Ante Rebic that led to the penalty in extra-time.

So is it simply a case of Croatia enduring an off day and their flair players failing to shine? Or, were they unable to break down a more stoic side and did they run out of ideas, despite the myriad of midfield technicians at their disposal?

It’s a conundrum Dalic will hope to rectify against Russia.

GALVANISED CROATIA LOOK TO REPEAT 1998 GLORY

Croatia are looking to emulate the side that finished third in 1998.

Croatia are looking to emulate the side that finished third in 1998.

Ante Rebic revealed the Croatia squad have spent this week recounting fond memories of their fledgling nation shocking the world on their way to finishing third at the 1998 World Cup in France.

That glorious group contained some sublime talents such as Robert Prosinecki, Davor Suker, Zvonimir Boban, Mario Stanic and Goran Vlaovic.

The 2018 vintage is perhaps not quite so stellar but is still packed with tantalising talent plying their trade with Europe’s best clubs – Ivan Perisic, Ivan Rakitic, Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic, Mario Mandzukic and of course Luka Modric.

Rebic wouldn’t have been near that group prior to the tournament, but he’s been a key component of Croatia’s quest to emulate the heroes of two decades ago.

He was excellent as the Vatreni vanquished Argentina in a performance that made the elite sit up and take notice.

He’s certainly grabbed his chance since being reintroduced to the international fold – Dalic brought him back in after he had fallen out of favour under predecessor Ante Cacic.

And it’s proved a masterstroke from a manager who’s guided his side to the last eight despite troubles off the pitch – the trial of former Dinamo Zagreb chief Zdravko Mamic and subsequent charges against Modric for alleged false testimony, not to mention AC Milan striker Nikola Kalinic being sent home after reportedly refusing to come off the bench against Nigeria.

Rebic, 24, won’t have vivid memories of ’98 – he was just four. But he will dream of playing his own part in the latest chapter of Croatian football history.

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