Quarterfinal Preview: Uruguay vs. France
Recap: The Round of 16 did not fail to entertain the us. With all but one game being decided by a goal or fewer, a stoppage time winner, and 3 penalty shootouts, the world was captivated by every game in the first stage of the knockout rounds. Now, the original pool of 32 nations has been reduced to 8 for this weekend's quarterfinals. The stage is set for Uruguay, France, Brazil, Belgium, Russia, Croatia, Sweden and England to fight it out for a spot in the last four. Here is an in depth look at each team and matchup.
Uruguay: Looking to redeem themselves after their early Round of 16 exit in 2014, Uruguay came into this World Cup with high hopes and expectations. They struggled in the goal scoring department in the first few games, registering a couple 1-0 wins against Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Fortunately, the found their scoring boots in their last group stage game against Russia, putting 3 passed Russia's and CSKA Moscow's Igor Akinfeev. Barcelona's Luiz Suarez and PSG's Edinson Cavani regained their form, just in time for the for their Round of 16 clash with Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal.
Uruguay's backbone, their center backs Jose Maria Gimenez and Diego Godin, play together in club as well with Athletico Madrid. These backs along with Calcio A wide backs Martin Caceres of Lazio and Diego Laxalt of Genoa provide Uruguay with a solid back line. One that had given up 0 goals in the group stage. Their midfield is run by Rodrigo Bentancur of Juventus, who is at the start of most Uruguay attacks.
This pieces came together against Portugal. Their defense shut down the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and the rest of Portugal attack. They were only broken by a corner Pepe got on the end of and buried.
Uruguay's attack flourished, riding the Cavani and Suarez partnership to victory. Suarez provided a wonderful delivery for Cavani on his first goal, and Cavani received a piercing Bentancur pass before curling a beautiful strike far post for a second goal. With this win, Uruguay knocked out one of the best players in the world in Ronaldo.
France: Heading into the World Cup, France had high expectations. Having arguably the most talented team in the tournament, Les Bleus looked to atone for their early exits in 2010 and 2014. The looked to push for a deep run behind the goal-scoring of Athletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann, and the play making of teenage sensation, Kylian Mbappe of PSG.
They struggled through the group stage, pulling out a 2-1 win over Australia, a 1-0 win over Peru in a game that Peru had the upper hand, and a 0-0 tie against Denmark, the only scoreless game in the entire tournament. France looked disconnected as a team, as their offense struggled to connect passes and create chances in the final third. With the depth France has in all positions, this came as a surprise.
Their defense and midfield did not share the same struggles. The back line, led by Barcelona's Sameul Umtiti and Real Madrid's Raphael Varane, held firm behind always working defensive midfielder N'golo Kante of Chelsea. Deemed the best defensive midfielder in the world, chances against France came few and far between.
Overall, France looked average heading into the knockout stage. Their form became more of a concern when they learned their opponents in the Round of 16 would be Argentina, a team that also had it's struggles in the group stage. This looked to be a fantastic clash between two powerhouses looking to regain form.
France opened the scoring in the first half through a Griezmann penalty. They looked as though they were returning to their old ways, but their offense continued to stay disconnected and stagnant. A wonder strike from PSG's Angel Di Maria and a deflected shot from Barcelona's and the World's best player Leo Messi over the next 30 minutes gave Argentina the lead. With France on the verge of bowing out early yet again, something clicked and the offense started putting it together. Lucas Hernandez of Athletico Madrid pushed well down the left side, and found his fellow wide back Ben Pavard of the Bundesliga side Stuttgart for a glorious equalizing volley. France had their moxie back. From there, Mbappe took over. he got his first goal off a pinballing ball in the box that he picked up, pushed passed a defender, and slotted home passed River Plate's Franco Armani. He slotted his second goal home off a wonderful fast break.
Argentina pulled one back through Manchester City's Sergio Kun Aguero in stoppage time, and made the game interested. However, a missed Di Maria missed opportunity in the box proved to be the last kick in the game and ensure France's 4-3 victory. This game proved important for France in regaining their goal scoring ways.
Prediction: With the news the Uruguay's leading scorer, Edinson Cavani, will likely be out of the quarterfinal tie, France have the clear upperhand. Uruguay will still be able to rely on Suarez and Bentancur. And Girona's Christian Stuani, the likely replacement for Cavani, is coming off a great scoring campaign in Spain's La Liga. He will be sure to provide a solid option for Uruguay's attack. Their defense, who only allowed one goal in the entire tournament so far, will stay firm with Gimenez and Godin in the back.
However, with France returning to their normal scoring ways, it's hard to argue against them. Griezmann seems to be making all the right runs and passes. Mbappe looks like he can take on any defender he faces. Pavard and Hernandez are pushing up the wings with purpose. And, Kante and Pogba look like they will dominate the midfield no matter who they face. Even though Uruguay will be the toughest defense France has faced, and the Uruguay attack is still potent without Cavani, it is hard to think Uruguay will be able to outscore an in-form France without their leading scorer. Thus, I predict that France will conquer Uruguay and go through to the semifinals.