It’s almost gone by in a blur, but 56 games into the 2018 World Cup, Uruguay are set to face France in the first quarter-final.
The disciplined South Americans will attempt to get the better of a French side capable of so much in attack as evidenced in their round of 16 victory.
Here, we look at the tactical nuances of both sides ahead of the encounter at the Nizhny Novgorod on Friday.
URUGUAY’S DEFENSIVE STRUCTURE
Uruguay have only been breached once in four games at this World Cup, boasting the strongest defence of the 32 teams. Key to that is a sturdy spine made up by Fernando Muslera in goal and the two centre-backs Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez.
However, Lucas Torreira has proved crucial to their structure in recent outings with Oscar Tabarez opting for a 4-1-2-1-2 formation, utilising a midfield diamond. The defensive midfielder screens in front of the centre-backs without the ball while pushing up into midfield with it.
The experience and tactical understanding of accomplished strikers Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani – although the Paris Saint-Germain man may make way for Cristhian Stuani due to injury – comes into play as well as they defend from the front with one pressing the man on the ball while the other supports Rodrigo Bentancur at the tip of the diamond, working to cover passing lanes.
With the formidable Torreira in behind, Uruguay are virtually impenetrable through the middle, forcing teams wide. Their work ethic though sees them shuttle out to the flanks in packs of three to box in a wide player in possession and should they win the ball, one of the strikers are usually well positioned in space for the counter.
For Uruguay’s second goal against Portugal in the round of 16, as soon as they won the ball, Cavani was positioned in space on the left and was on hand to curl in Bentancur’s pass.
While Didier Deschamps’ ploy to use Blaise Matuidi on the left is another defensive-minded tweak from a cautious coach, it has brought the best out of Paul Pogba and yielded four goals for his side in the round of 16 clash against Argentina.
However, Matuidi is suspended for this fixture, meaning either Thomas Lemar or Ousmane Dembele should start in his stead, changing the dynamic of the midfield as Pogba will then be shackled to a more holding role with Matuidi not around to support him.
There is another – perhaps more imaginative – way to go though. Steven Nzonzi could play in the double pivot with N’Golo Kante while Pogba operates ahead of them in a three-man midfield. This would however mean dropping Olivier Giroud with Antoine Griezmann playing up front.
Uruguay are largely comfortable dealing with aerial balls and their centre-backs enjoy the physical battle so Giroud may struggle to make an impact. Instead, France could use their quick passing to start wide, shift the ball into the centre from where a winger can be released in the channel between full-back and centre-back.
At that juncture, the cut-back would be on with the likes of Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe or Pogba awaiting at the top of the box.
We saw this work well for Benjamin Pavard’s sensational goal against Argentina. Matuidi played Lucas Hernandez through the inside channel before the right-back eventually fired home from the cut-back.
Whether you’re an England fan or a Colombia supporter, the last 16 clash between the nations on Tuesday was a roller coaster ride.
After England took the lead on a penalty, Colombia responded in injury time to extend the game before the Three Lions sealed the deal in a thrilling penalty shootout.
Naturally, England fans lost their minds and celebrated the stunning victory, which advances them to the quarter-finals where they’ll meet Sweden.
Check out the fan reaction during and after the game in the video below.
There’s still plenty more to come in the World Cup, but the tournament as already produced some compelling stories in Russia ahead of the quarter-finals.
Check out the top five stories so far at the World Cup in the video below.