France became the first team to reach the World Cup semi-finals as goals from Raphael Varane and Antoine Griezmann secured a deserved 2-0 victory over Uruguay on Friday.
It is the first time France have been in the last four since 2006 and sets up a mouth-watering clash against either Belgium or Brazil.
Didier Deschamps’ side took the lead in the 40th minute from the unlikely source of defender Varane, who glanced home a fine header from a Griezmann free-kick.The Atletico Madrid front man then scored a second in the 61st minute, but it was mostly because of a howler from La Celeste’s goalkeeper, Fernando Muslera.
Here, we examine some of the things learned from Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.
FRANCE TURNING IT ON
Les Bleus have darkened two nations with a sun emblazoned on their flags and in the process, illuminated their own huge potential at this tournament.
Deschamps’ side were effective in the group stages but they regrettably seldom showed the type of dynamism which has been a trait for many of their key stars.
But against Argentina, France were unshackled. Kylian Mbappe was a fine manifestation of their free-flowing capabilities and they followed the performance up against Uruguay – albeit in moments rather than sustained periods.
Passage through to the semi-finals was thanks in large part because of the tepid nature of the dreadfully disappointing South Americans, a mitigating circumstance for their stiff display the loss of injured forward Edinson Cavani before kick off. But at times, they were slick and sharp.
Indeed, Griezmann produced his best performance so far with Olivier Giroud’s presence up top bringing the very best out of him. And it’s mini pairings like that one which hallmark the spine of this France XI.
N’Golo Kante was exceptional, so to Paul Pogba. The miniature midfielder anticipated danger exceptionally and then quickly mopped up loose balls before intelligently feeding Pogba, who is thriving with complete freedom.
The towering Manchester United creator won 100 per cent of his tackles, made 25 successful final-third passes, five clearances, four aerial duels and made one key pass.
They say opposites attract and never is the phrase more true in Kante and Pogba. It’s like the ball is a precious stone as Kante quietly pickpockets possession with Pogba the flamboyant benefactor as he smoothly switches play into the attacking third.
If Pogba can do it all, it’s because Kante is absolutely everywhere. A similar notion can be ascribed to the centre-backs with Varane and Samuel Umtiti establishing themselves as an adroit pairing.
Granted, France are yet to be truly tested in Russia. But perhaps they deserve credit for the prevailing feeling from their fixtures being one of complete efficiency.
They’re improving as the tournament progresses and against better opponents. They’re producing when it matters most, the attribute of champions.
THE SUBLIME AND THE SHOCKING
Among the myriad of narratives to arise from this World Cup, goalkeepers for good and bad reasons are ensuring they are not ignored.
Nightmarish mistakes as well as mesmeric manoeuvres have been on display and in this one fixture, we were gifted with one of each.
Muslera became the ninth keeper to make an error which has led to a goal at this World Cup and the Uruguay stopper is right alongside David De Gea and Willy Caballero for criminality.
The game ultimately fizzled out after the usually dependable 32-year-old treated Griezmann’s tame strike as it if were a projectile firework.
It was an error so bad the Frenchman barely acknowledged the goal as his own, practically ridding himself of responsibility in embarrassment for the Galatasaray No1.
But prior to that howler, Hugo Lloris showed us the sublime side of goalkeeping. On the edge of first-half stoppage time, Lloris mimicked Stretch Armstrong to deny Martin Caceres’s well-placed header.
Not only was the save alongside Jordan Pickford’s against Colombia, but the way he sprung to his feet on the rebound to shorten the gap for Diego Godin to squeeze the ball into was equally outstanding.
Suffice to say it left us salivating. The dragon fly he unfortunately munched on, not so much.
MBAPPE ENTERS NEYMAR TERRITORY
Uruguay added a typical South America flavour to the fixture with a sprinkle of saltiness throughout, but perhaps the best example arrived in Mbappe’s impersonation of Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Neymar.
Now, the two share common attributes in their ability to glide past opponents with consummate ease. Yet it seems Mbappe is taking the commonality a step further by proceeding to throw himself to the floor at the sight of feint touches.
The 19-year-old was brushed aside by Cristian Rodriguez after a slick bit of skill, but his reaction was both embarrassing and unnecessary.
Evidently Neymar is a bit of bad influence on the precocious teenager.