15:00 BST, Friday 6th July, Nizhny Novgorod Stadium (Nizhny Novgorod, Russia), BBC One
The World Cup heat continues to ramp up as we reach the stage of the last eight. Uruguay and France are two of the biggest names on the international scene and, at this stage, both will fancy their chances of getting to the very end of this tournament.
The first knockout round did not fail to deliver – great goals, entertaining games and penalty shootouts all contributed to an action-packed last-16 as Spain were sent crashing out of the tournament by hosts, Russia.
Both sides reached this stage by fine margins, the French winning 4-3 over Argentina, and Uruguay defeating Portugal 2-1. As the ante is raised round-by-round, the margin for error gets smaller.
France and Uruguay have met seven times in the past, but only six goals have been scored in all of those previous fixtures combined. With a spot in the semi-finals up for grabs, could the difference be a customary fine one, or will both sides attack with intent?
Last Time Out
Uruguay 2-1 Portugal
Uruguay earned their place in the last eight with an impressive but hard-fought win over European champions, Portugal. La Celeste, with the familiar figures of Diego Godin in defence and Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani up front, always present a challenge hard to overcome for any opponent, as the Portuguese found.
The South American side got off to a flying start when the Suarez and Cavani partnership combined to great effect. Cavani played a cross-field one-two with Suarez, peeling off to the back post to power home from the returning cross.
Portugal were back on terms after the break when Pepe found himself free in the box to nod home from a corner; the goal was the first that Uruguay had conceded in Russia. A piece of brilliance from Cavani put his side back in front as his first-time curling effort found the bottom corner of Rui Patricio’s goal.
France 4-3 Argentina
The scoreline suggests that France’s encounter with Argentina was closer than reality dictated.
Having won their group at a stuttering pace, the French hadn’t reached their top gear before this encounter. The Argentines were lucky to have escaped Group D, and few gave them a chance to get anything against Les Bleus.
Kylian Mbappe proved a nightmare to handle for the French defence, and it was his searing pace that gave Antoine Griezmann the chance to open the scoring from the spot, which he took.
Argentina hit back through a wonder strike just before the break from Angel di Maria and then took the lead after Lionel Messi’s shot was turned in inadvertently.
Benjamin Pavard then hit a contender for the goal of the tournament to put his side on level terms before Mbappe turned on the style to grab two goals and put France in pole position.
Sergio Aguero headed in from close range in added time to give Argentina a faint sense of hope, but France held firm to record a win that should have been more comfortable.
Oscar Tabarez may keep the same starting XI that began the win over Portugal in the last round.
Diego Laxalt has settled in well at left back, while Lucas Torreira’s performance should see him return to the midfield. Edinson Cavani is likely to miss out after suffering a calf injury against Portugal, which means Cristhian Stuani will deputise.
Tabarez has varied his formation thus far, using 4-1-4-1, 3-5-2 and 4-1-2-1-2 systems in fluidity.
Didier Deschamps could select the same XI that beat Argentina, except for a forced change in midfield.
Blaise Matuidi picked up his second booking against Argentina and is banned for this fixture – Corentin Tolisso will hope to deputise.
Key Battle: Lucas Torreira (Uruguay) vs Paul Pogba (France)
France will know Uruguay’s strength in attack and defence, but will also be aware of the fact that Uruguay weakness is in the midfield area.
Read more analysis on Lucas Torreira HERE.
Torreira had a good game against Portugal, a tireless performance that aided his team at both ends of the pitch. His ability to provide a deeper-lying option in attack gave his side an extra edge going forward, and his closing down of space and pressing defensively gave Uruguay an extra bank of protection.
N’Golo Kante will do his usual job for France, and Pogba will look to get forward where he can, which could mean that Torreira will be in for another busy night. This game will be won and lost on both sides’ midfield’s being able to supply and support their attacks. But which will prevail?
Can Uruguay frustrate France?
Uruguay have so far carried their customary reputation of being defensively stubborn into Russia, minus the single goal they conceded against Portugal, which will upset captain Diego Godin.
The South American side is notoriously difficult to break down, and with Godin and Jose Gimenez at the heart of the defence, who both play together at Atletico Madrid, perhaps it’s easy to see why.
France, minus the performance against Argentina, have looked toothless going forward so far. The longer the game stays goalless, the more it will suit the Uruguayans.
Ready for fifth gear?
France’s laboured attacking play through the group stages led many to believe it was a typical, tournament-football approach – slow and steady, then go through the gears.
The win over Argentina suggested that may be the case, but the games prior will have some fans slightly anxious about facing such a stern defence.
Mbappe’s performance against Argentina would be welcome once more here, but the French need to see more from the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele to help out.
Prediction: Uruguay 1-0 France
This one is so very difficult to predict. There isn’t much between the two teams, at least in terms of strength vs weakness.
Uruguay will take great pride in their defensive reputation having only been breached once in four games, though their chances of hurting France are somewhat reduced with Cavani missing out.
France have been sloppy defensively and have shipped four goals in four matches. The Uruguayans might be more confident of scoring than France will be, despite their firepower up front. The longer the game goes on without a goal, the more nervous the French will get.
It will be a close affair, which has the potential to go all the way. The worst thing from a French point of view would be to fall behind – an ultra-defensive Uruguay isn’t pleasant to face. 1-0.
Listen to the RealSport football writers preview all the action ahead of the World Cup quarter-finals in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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