Uruguay vs France, World Cup 2018: Why Antoine Griezmann, not Kylian Mbappe, is the key man for Didier Deschamps, scouting report

The Atletico Madrid superstar provided the two moments of quality that booked France's place in the World Cup semi-finals

Liam Twomey
Friday 06 July 2018 15:12
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France World Cup profile

All eyes are rightly on Kylian Mbappe whenever France take to the field at this World Cup after his masterclass against Argentina, but it was Antoine Griezmann who re-established himself as his country’s key man in Friday’s 1-0 win over a formidably stubborn Uruguay in Nizhny Novgorod.

In a match that was never likely to resemble the seven-goal thriller that lit up the round of 16, Griezmann provided the two moments of quality that broke the resistance of the World Cup’s meanest defence and earned France a place in the semi-finals.

A pinpoint free-kick delivery from the Atletico Madrid superstar allowed Raphael Varane to glance in the opening goal five minutes before half-time, and he made sure of France’s victory just after the hour mark when his swerving shot from 25 yards prompted a horrible and uncharacteristic mistake from Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.

Griezmann performed like a man inspired by the challenge of facing a country and a footballing culture that he identifies with almost as much as France. In comments earlier this week he described himself as “half-Uruguayan”, opening up about the affection forged by close friendships with former Real Sociedad teammate Carlos Bueno and Atletico defensive stalwart Diego Godin, the godfather to his young daughter.

He turned up to Nizhny Novgorod Stadium clutching a gourd of mate, the traditional South American drink, and as France showed intermittent flashes of their quality in the first half it was Griezmann who was at the heart of much of their good play.

He drifted left and right to link up neatly with Mbappe, Olivier Giroud and Corentin Tolisso; on one memorable occasion Diego Laxalt made the mistake of getting too close and was embarrassed with an impudent nutmeg, though Griezmann was unable to beat the covering Uruguayan defender.

That was the story of much of the opening 45 minutes, with France’s fluidity grinding to a halt as it met an unbending light blue wall on the edge of the Uruguay penalty area. Set pieces provided the best opportunity for both teams to threaten, and Griezmann took his chance brilliantly when France won a deep free-kick shortly before the interval.

Fernando Muslera of Uruguay fumbles the ball as Antoine Griezmann of France scores his team's second goal

Stuttering in his run-up to disrupt Uruguay’s rehearsed defensive movements, he clipped a surgically precise ball into the box that Varane rose highest to glance into the far corner.

The goal gave France control rather than comfort, but Griezmann was hell bent on putting them out of sight. He particularly loves the “garra charrua”, or incredible fighting spirit that underpins the Uruguayan approach to football, and it has served him well in four spectacular years with Atletico.

Muslera could have been forgiven for thinking he was playing against Luis Suarez when, as he dallied over a clearance, Griezmann raced 30 yards to close him down and ended up dispossessing him, only for the ball to run harmlessly out of play. The Uruguay goalkeeper was not so fortunate, however, the next time he found himself in the sights of France’s talisman.

France worked the ball from right to left to the feet of Griezmann, but there appeared no immediate danger as he drew his foot back. But his shot, fierce and moving unpredictably in the air, made Muslera look like a concussed Loris Karius and looped slowly over the line off his misplaced palms.

The second goal finished Uruguay, and provided the exclamation point a performance that many have been waiting for from Griezmann at this World Cup. France have never lost when he scores – a run that now stretches to 20 matches – and he now boasts seven goals in his last six knockout appearances in major international tournaments.

And yet the circus created by his ill-advised TV special in which he eventually signalled his intention to shun Barcelona to stay at Atletico, coupled with Mbappe’s seemingly inexorable rise to superstardom, had left some questioning whether Griezmann was talented and decisive enough to mitigate the baggage that accompanies him for club and country.

On this evidence, though, Griezmann remains every bit as crucial to France’s hopes of winning major silverware as he did in his spectacular contribution to their Euro 2016 run. Brazil or Belgium will know there is much more to beating France in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday than stopping Mbappe.

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