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Lloris has presence to seal France progress

Uruguay 0 France 2

France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris is at full stretch to deny Uruguay’s Martin Caceres in last night’s quarter-final. Photo: Getty Images
France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris is at full stretch to deny Uruguay’s Martin Caceres in last night’s quarter-final. Photo: Getty Images

Jeremy Wilson

It was arguably the save of the tournament and indisputably the decisive moment in this quarter-final.

France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris provoked audible gasps from all around the stadium when he seemed to defy gravity, Superman-style, to deny Martin Caceres, but its real significance lay both in the timing and the stark contrast with Uruguay's Fernando Muslera.

Uruguay’s Fernando Muslera fumbles the ball into his own net. Getty Images
Uruguay’s Fernando Muslera fumbles the ball into his own net. Getty Images

France had taken the lead moments earlier in almost identical circumstances when Raphael Varane rose to meet Antoine Griezmann's free-kick, but with Muslera helpless on that header and later making a dreadful mistake to gift France a second, their surprisingly routine progress to a first World Cup semi-final since 2006 was confirmed.

Uruguay, for whom Luis Suarez, their talisman, did not have a single shot or touch inside the penalty area, had barely threatened and badly missed the additional attacking variety of Edinson Cavani, whose match-winning goals against Portugal came with the price of a torn calf.

Yet in a tournament where the attacking players have received so much acclaim, Lloris had also underlined the importance to any serious World Cup contender of an outstanding goalkeeper. He is a quiet and sometimes reserved character but, in captaining Tottenham as well as France, always speaks and acts with a calm authority among so many emerging younger players.

His save from Caceres was unusual not just for the distance of his dive but how he hung in the air long enough to get sufficient strength behind his right palm.

France's Olivier Giroud in action with Uruguay's Martin Caceres. Photo: Reuters
France's Olivier Giroud in action with Uruguay's Martin Caceres. Photo: Reuters

Had Uruguay then scored and quickly got level, after earlier frustrating France with their deep-lying defence, the psychological shift could have been hugely significant. As it was, Uruguay were ultimately forced to play with rather more risk in the second half and that actually made the game easier for France.

From just about the first pass to Kylian Mbappe, it looked as if Uruguay - and especially Oscar Tabarez, their vastly experienced manager - had watched a video of him demolishing Argentina and thought to themselves:

'No, thanks'.

They instead largely got players behind the ball and aimed to use their physicality and what had been the tournament's best defence to frustrate France.

France's Paul Pogba controls the ball ahead of Uruguay's Matias Vecino. Photo: Reuters
France's Paul Pogba controls the ball ahead of Uruguay's Matias Vecino. Photo: Reuters

It helps when you have perhaps the world's best centre-back in Diego Godin behind you, but Arsenal transfer target Lucas Torreira was initially especially effective.

At 5ft 6in tall, he is identical in height to N'Golo Kante and, with the Chelsea midfielder quietly disrupting any Uruguay attacks at the other end of the pitch, Torreira was doing the same amid almost 40 minutes of stalemate.

Torreira is especially effective at winning loose second balls in front of his defence and his team had been absorbing France's range of attacking threats with ease.

Mbappe, except for an excellent run, was being denied space and Olivier Giroud was comfortably contained by Godin. But, as has so often been the case at this World Cup, it was a set-piece and a moment of defensive indiscipline that proved decisive.

France's Kylian Mbappe (right) and Antoine Griezmann celebrate Raphael Varane. Photo: AP
France's Kylian Mbappe (right) and Antoine Griezmann celebrate Raphael Varane. Photo: AP

Rodrigo Bentancur had been booked for his poor tackle on Corentin Tolisso and it was from this foul that France took the lead.

It was particularly significant that Varane should score after he was partially blamed for Germany's winner in their quarter-final defeat in Brazil four years ago.

Didier Deschamps, who is trying to join Franz Beckenbauer in winning the World Cup as both player and manager, felt that it underlined how his team have been on an upwards trajectory.

"We have some margin to get better," he said. "Raphael has gained four years of experience - these players have grown, have more maturity and baggage.

"That is necessary. It is often in the tough times that you learn the most."

Uruguay did still begin the second half in keeping with their cautious game-plan and did not intend to take any significant risk in their attempt to equalise until later in the game.

Muslera, though, rather ruined that idea. Having already almost cost his team a goal by hesitating with a clearance that nearly cannoned back in off Griezmann, he then horribly misjudged a curling - but still fairly tame - shot from the Atletico Madrid striker. Rather than catch or palm the ball to safety, it deflected back into his own goal and France had their breathing space.

The French have never lost when Griezmann has scored and, while there were moments of anger in the closing stages following Mbappe's theatrics after brushing into Cristian Rodriguez, never once did Uruguay look like threatening that sequence.

© Daily Telegraph, London

Telegraph.co.uk

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