Moscow: Friday will be a key day at the 21st Fifa World Cup as it features two quarter-final matches involving four top teams of the tournament. You neither need a prescient octopus nor a clairvoyant cat to predict that one of them are on course to win the trophy on July 15.
Neutral fans aren’t happy that two fine sides will be out of the tournament before the semi-finals. They have a point because the other half looks as appetising as an economics lecture after a sumptuous lunch. Croatia inspire some hope in that half but Russia might park a metro in Sochi to force a shootout.
In a first meeting of former champions on Friday, France will face Uruguay at Nizhny Novgorod in the early kick-off. It will be the industrial city’s final match of the tournament; France and Uruguay will be hoping that it’s not theirs.
All the attention of the world is on the Brazil-Belgium contest in Kazan later in the day, as the most successful side in the tournament take on probably the most talented team in Russia. But make no mistake; the France-Uruguay match has all the ingredients to become a classic.
Expectations have reached the stratosphere on both teams, as they had knocked out Lionel Messi’s Argentina and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in the round of 16. A settled playing XI with the same manager from the 2014 World Cup, the two sides have a lot of similarities but France have an edge on account of their stronger bench.
Kylian Mbappe of France has captured the imagination of the world with his barnstorming performance against Argentina that resulted in two goals for him and a nightmare for his rivals. The Paris Saint-Germain forward has brushed aside comparisons with Pele but the teenager would continue to be mentioned in the same sentence with the great Brazilian if he dazzles again on Friday.
Uruguay are worried a lot about their own hero, Edinson Cavani. The towering PSG forward, who scored two outstanding goals to book an early flight home for Ronaldo, is nursing a calf injury and is reported to be doubtful against France. With Luis Suarez not at his best here, Cavani is Uruguay’s main marksman in a 4-4-2 formation.
Doubts about Cavani’s availability could also be a ploy to lull Didier Deschamps’s team into complacency. Uruguay wouldn’t be as bad as James Rodriguez-less Colombia but he would certainly be missed up front. Maybe the absence of Cavani is the red rag that Suarez, a bull of a player, needs to come alive.
Uruguay’s defence has been the stingiest here along with Brazil’s, having conceded only one goal in four matches. Captain Diego Godin and his Atletico Madrid team mate Jose Gimenez are rocks at the heart of defence. Coach Oscar Tabarez, who needs crutches to walk as he has a rare muscular degenerative disease, is a wily customer who can change his strategy on the go.
While Deschamps must be thrilled with the resplendent show of Mbappe, he would be worried over the poor form of Antoine Griezmann. The forward hasn’t scored a goal yet from open play. More importantly, he hardly got into a scoring position in four matches. Another headache for Deschamps would be the absence of the experienced midfielder Blaise Matuidi who is suspended for the match. Even if your focus is on the Brazil match, don’t give France-Uruguay a miss. You might rue it later, if you do.