SOCHI: “It will be a boring match,” Antoine Griezmann warned ahead of France’s quarterfinal against Uruguay, a team that the Atletico Madrid striker knows inside out. Uruguay defender Diego Godin is the godfather of Griezmann’s daughter and the French striker says the match at Nizhny Novgorod will be a terribly ’emotional’ one.
“Diego is a great friend. I am with him every day in Madrid. He’s the godfather of my little girl. It’s going to be a very emotional match for me. He knows everything about me as I know everything about him and Gimenez (the other central defender of Uruguay).” Godin and Gimenez marshal the heart of Uruguay’s formidable defence, which has leaked only one goal in the tournament. Brazil is the other team which boasts of such an achievement. Only Portugal’s Pepe got the better of Fernando Muslera, guarding Uruguayan goal in his third World Cup.
“Uruguay play a compact 4-4-2, where they all defend together. It will be a totally different game than the one against Argentina,” said Griezmann the other night. At Atletico, Godin, Gimenez and Griezmann play together under Diego Simeone, the coach who is a master in the dark art of defending. It’s a common saying in Uruguay that they go into a match with a knife between their teeth and only the toughest survive.
In an interview to the Guardian at the start of the tournament, Godin said that this fierce philosophy is the identity of La Celeste. “You cannot turn your back on your collective DNA. We have always been good defensively, fast in our transitions, but I think we have improved as now we are better in possession. The young players have added that quality to our game. But Uruguay has lost none of its involvement, its fight, its sacrifice and solidarity, this determination to overcome adversity.”
Adversity hit them hard in the pre-quarterfinal. After scoring two, Edinson Cavani limped out of the pitch, with one hand on Cristiano Ronaldo‘s shoulder, and though he resumed training on Thursday, the PSG frontman remains doubtful.
The breakup of Uruguay’s striking duo of Cavani and Suarez is the biggest worry for coach Oscar Tabarez – a patient of chronic neuropathy – in the face of a super-fluent France.
Griezmann’s understudy Kylian Mbappe has emerged as the biggest star with his Bolt-like dash and Ronaldo-like finish. In his support, Didier Deschamps has strung together arguably the best midfield in Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi and the irrepressible Ngolo Kante. Benjamin Pavard and Luis Hernandez join the adventure whenever opportunity arises and go on to make France the most fearsome attacking force in Russia.
Missing Cavani against such a force is most unfortunate for Uruguay. As history suggests, Uruguay have been eliminated in the last two World Cups and Copa Americas when either Suarez or Cavani were missing.