France and Uruguay will go head to head against each other in the first quarterfinal of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia on Friday.

32 teams started, but only eight remain now. The 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup is hurtling fast towards the climax, as France gear up to take on Uruguay in the first quarterfinals of the quadrennial event at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.

The French eased their way into the last eight of the tournament, after beating Lionel Messi’s Argentina 4-3, courtesy of a brilliant display from teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe. And now Didier Deschamps’ side will be hoping to inch closer to the trophy that they last won twenty years ago, with a victory on Friday.

Uruguay, on the other hand, rode on striker Edinson Cavani’s brilliance to eliminate Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal 2-1 in the round of 16 stages, maintaining their perfect winning record in Russia so far, with four victories from four. Having been unable to make it past the last 16 in Brazil four years ago, La Celeste, led by manager Oscar Tabarez will be keen on carrying the momentum into their Quarter-Final tie.

Team News & Tactics

Uruguay

The South Americans have been dealt a bitter blow as Cavani is likely to sit this one out, after picking up an injury against Portugal. His strike partner, Luis Suarez, too picked up a knock during training, but is expected to be available on Friday. Manager Tabarez, is unlikely to make many alterations to the side that managed to send Portugal crashing out of the tournament.

Expect the Uruguayans to line up in a 4-3-1-2 setup once again, with Fernando Muslera set to continue between the sticks, behind an unchanged back four of Martin Caceres, Diego Godin, Jose Maria Gimenez and Diego Laxalt. While their defence has been rock solid so far in the World Cup, a tough test awaits for them against the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann.

Sampdoria’s 22-year old midfielder Lucas Torreira will start as the holding midfielder and screen his side’s defence, while trying to keep France’s midfield runners at bay. Nahitan Nandez and Matias Vecino will provide support, while also looking to provide the forward thrust from the middle.

Juventus’s rising star Rodrigo Bentancur will slot in the hole behind the two strikers for La Celeste and look to pull the strings in the final third and keep the team ticking.

With Suarez expected to recover from the knock, he is a definite starter as one of the two strikers. However, with serious doubts over Cavani’s involvement, Tabarez will have a key decision to make whether he chooses veteran Christhian Stuani or the promising Maxi Gomez to partner up with Suarez at the top. The scales are likely to tilt in favour of the former, owing to his experience.

Probable Starting XI (4-3-1-2): Muslera; Caceres, Godin, Gimenez, Laxalt; Nandez, Torreira, Vecino; Bentancur; Suarez, Stuani;

France

There are no major injury concerns for Les Bleus heading into the crunch encounter on Friday, apart from second-choice full-back Djibril Sidibe. Key midfield man Blaise Matuidi will miss out as well, due to suspension, having picked up his second yellow card of the competition against Argentina.

Captain Hugo Lloris will continue to man the goal for the European nation and will be hoping to put in a solid display and lead the team by example. However, he will be needing plenty of support from his centre-back pairing of Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti, with the latter’s contest against Barcelona teammate Suarez likely to be one of the highlights of the game.

Benjamin Pavard will hope to continue his excellent run at right-back, after having scored a spectacular goal in the last game, while Lucas Hernandez will continue to be preferred over Benjamin Mendy on the opposite side.

Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante will form the two-man midfield axis for Deschamps’ side, with the former tasked with doing what he does best – disrupting attacks, winning back possession while the latter will be encouraged to drive his team forward with the ball.

Star man Kylian Mbappe will once again start out on the right-flank and hope to build on his impeccable performance against Argentina, with Antoine Griezmann expected to continue as the No.10, hoping to get going in Russia.

Matuidi’s suspension opens up a spot on the left-side for France and that is likely to go to AS Monaco’s Thomas Lemar, ahead of Ousmane Dembele, owing to the former’s work-rate. Olivier Giroud is yet to score a goal in the World Cup, but remains a vital component of this side and will once again spearhead the attack.

Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Pavard, Varane, Umtiti, Hernandez; Kante, Pogba; Mbappe, Griezmann, Lemar; Giroud;

Key Stats

  • This will be the last game to be played at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium where both countries play for the first time. The previous five matches at this venue delivered 17 goals and a penalty shootout as Croatia edged Denmark in the previous round.
  • Uruguay go into this game on seven victories in a row, conceding a single goal in the process in their last match against Portugal on Saturday, while they have scored 13 times. Their last defeat came against Austria in November.
  • France’s only defeat in their last 16 matches was in March at home by Colombia in a friendly match. They have recorded eight wins and two draws in their last 10 fixtures.
  • The last time the two teams met was in a friendly in 2013, when a Luis Suarez goal fired La Celeste to a 1-0 win over France. Both the nations have clashed three times in a World Cup, with Uruguay winning one (1966), while the other two matches ended in goalless stalemates (2002 and 2010).
  • France have won two penalty shootouts at the World Cup and lost two, the last in the 2006 final against Italy. Uruguay’s only previous shootout experience came against Ghana in South Africa eight years ago, when they triumphed.

Player to watch

Kylian Mbappe (France)

Can Mbappe fire France to a victory again? (Photo by SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Can Mbappe fire France to a victory again? (Photo by SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The 19-year old forward showed his class against Argentina in the previous round, as he almost single-handedly fired France to a memorable victory. Mbappe finished the game with two goals, to add to the one he scored against Peru in the group stages, while he also won the penalty that led to the opening goal for Les Bleus. 

With the goals against Argentina, the PSG attacker became the first ever teenager to score two or more goals in a World Cup since Michael Owen did it back in 1998. He also became the first ever teenager to score a brace in a single World Cup game since the legendary Pele achieved the feat way back in 1958. Without a doubt, he will be France’s biggest weapon as they look to take down Uruguay on Friday.

Prediction

Uruguay 1-2 France (after extra time)

Uruguay’s defence has been rock solid, with Godin and Jimenez forming an unbreakable partnership, while the French attack showed what they are capable of when they get going. As a result, the match on Friday will no doubt be a tightly-contested and a captivating encounter – one that will likely go down to the wire.

Cavani’s absence might come back to hurt the South Americans, leaving Suarez to do a lot by himself in the attack, which could prove to be their downfall. On the other hand, with Mbappe’s confidence flowing and Griezmann also showing signs of peaking, coupled with the influence of Kante, France seem to have a just a little bit more going for them at the moment.

And that is why we expect them to edge past the Uruguayans and move into the semifinals of the World Cup, after 120 minutes of hard-fought action.

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