With a star studded side, the French were clearly the favorites in this clash, yet a resolute, although unglamorous, performance from Oscar Tabarez’s Uruguay ensured France would have to be content with a goalless stalemate.
With South Africa and Mexico grinding out a draw in the opening game of the tournament, this was an opportunity missed by both, Uruguay and France, to go to the top of the standings in Group A.
If there were any concerns about this French team suffering from bouts of devastatingly low morale and incessant infighting, those would soon be put to rest courtesy a show of unity from France even before the first whistle. In a moment seemingly scripted for the television audiences, the French stars had their arms wrapped around each others’ waists as they sang the La Marsellaise – a performance that even included Abidal nonchalantly waving at the camera.
Raymond Domenech did not disappoint as far as throwing an odd surprise goes, when he opted to leave out Thierry Henry and the in-form Florent Malouda from the starting line-up. With Diaby replacing Malouda, and France relying on Anelka as the lone striker, the knowledge that they had never beaten Uruguay in a World Cup couldn’t have been comforting for Les Bleus.
France lacked potency up-front
France started off the hungrier of the two sides, looking for an early goal to settle their nerves. Domenech’s men certainly showed superior intent in trying to break away at the start, albeit in vain. The best chance of the half came when Ribery broke away from his marker and threaded in a superb cross only for Govou to miss it from agonizingly close range. Uruguay had a fleeting moment of hope themselves around the 10th minute mark, when the ball landed for Luis Suarez in a dangerous position, only for the Uruguayan to be flagged offside.
Evra deservedly saw yellow for his aggressive tugging of a sky-blue shirt, and at the other end Hugo Lloris did his image no favors as he fumbled the bouncing ball clumsily as the Uruguayans insisted he’d palmed it across the line. Nicolas Anelka was relegated to playing a cameo, as the Uruguayan defense hounded him every time the ball landed at his feet. His sole chance of redeeming himself came from a Yoann Gourcuff cross, but the moody Frenchman couldn’t keep his header down.
For all of France’s exploits in the middle of the pitch, they were crowded out and starved for space by Oscar Tabarez’s men in the final third. Relying solely on the counter attack now, Uruguay had a splendid chance of nosing ahead when Forlan aimed-in a powerful kick that was thumped away by a grateful Lloris.
Franck Ribery was a constant menace on the left and earned his side a free kick that Gourcuff may have wasted by trying to score himself. Gourcuff continued to disappoint, despite finding himself often in the thick of things. With Anelka losing possession all too often, and Ribery operating on the left, it was left to Sagna to provide the impetus on the right, as a full back – a potentially risky move considering Forlan was operating with aplomb on the same flank.
France went into the half-time interval, having had the greater possession and having offered the greater threat, but thanks to some woeful finishing and lack of potency up front, it remained scoreless. The unsung hero of the French side was the experienced Jeremy Toulalan who, positioned right in front of the defense, turned in an impeccable performance.
Franck Ribery – an evening of effort in vain
The second half started off quite tame, as both sides barely threatened each others’ goalposts. Tempers flared after the hour mark, as Toulalan clumsily went in for a challenge. The ensuing fracas threatened to turn into a free for all, till even Domenech had to intervene. With the referee dishing out yellow cards liberally, both the French and the Uruguayans could be forgiven for looking to play out the remainder of the game in subdued fashion. The hapless Anelka was soon taken off with pre-tournament villain Thierry Henry coming on to replace him, to a lusty round of applause from the French supporters.
Uruguay’s best chance of the game came courtesy a pass from Suarez that culminated in a shot from Forlan that went just wide of goal, as Lloris was stranded in no man’s land. With just a quarter of an hour left, the ineffective Gourcuff was substituted for Malouda, and almost immediately the French found themselves cranking up the pressure at the opposite end. As the clock ran down on regulation time, and Uruguay seemingly content to see the game to a scoreless end, Malouda tried his luck from long range only to miss the goal by a comfortable margin.
With France desperately probing for a result, Lodeiro infamously became the first player to receive a World Cup red-card on African soil, for a terribly timed challenge on Sagna. The accumulating French pressure began to pay dividends as the ball spent the last five minutes almost exclusively in the Uruguayan penalty area, and in a twist of irony it was Thierry Henry making the most vociferous appeal for a handball.
In the final minute of the game, as the French pressed frantically for a goal, Diaby managed to secure a free kick just outside the box. Henry’s free kick was a weak and feeble attempt at chipping the ball over a determined Uruguayan wall.
TheHardTackle’s Player of the Match:
Franck Ribery (France)
In a game desperately short of match-winning performances, the best player of the game, albeit in patches, was France’s Franck Ribery. Despite his inability to fashion a goal or provide several goal-scoring opportunities for his compatriots, Ribery was by far the player with the biggest contribution for the cause of Les Bleus. Terrorizing the Uruguayan defense on the left flank, he’d be disappointed not to have greater support from his teammates.
TheHardTackle’s Referee Report Card:
Yuichi Nishimura – Grade: B
The Japanese showed a penchant to dish out the cards, even handing Lodeiro the dubious honor of seeing the first red card of the tournament. The fracas that ensued after Toulalan’s clumsy challenge could have also been avoided by a sterner official, with much more on-field presence.
FRANCE 0-0 URUGUAY
Venue: Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
Attendance : 64,000
French Line-Up: Hugo Lloris, Eric Abidal, William Gallas, Patrice Evra, Bacary Sagna, Abou Diaby, Jeremy Toulalan, Nicolas Anelka (Thierry Henry 72′), Yoann Gourcuff (Florent Malouda 75′), Franck Ribéry, Sidney Govou (Andre-Pierre Gignac 85′)
Manager: Raymond Domenech
Caution: Evra, Toulalan, Ribery
Uruguay Line-Up: Fernando Muslera, Diego Lugano, Diego Godín, Mauricio Victorino, Egidio Arévalo, Diego Pérez (Sebastián Eguren 88′), Ignacio González (Nicolás Lodeiro 63′), Álvaro Pereira, Maxi Pereira, Luis Suárez (Sebastián Abreu 74′), Diego Forlán
Manager: Oscar Tabarez
Caution: Lugano, victorino, Lodeiro