Varane Invincible!: 6 Takeaways from Uruguay-France


Raphael Varane provided the winning header and then the cool head as France handle the heat.

1. A great, great first half to watch! Furious pressing by Uruguay, quick combination play by France, and a few of those hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck, eyes-opening-wide runs by Mbappe, like watching Randy Moss or Usain Bolt just separate from exceptionally fast athletes. For all of France’s zip, it was Uruguay that created the best chances, and yielded two exceptional saves by Hugo Lloris, who outdueled his counterpart, the unfortunate Fernando Muslera. While neither team connected well when it mattered, I loved the intensity, physical but contained within decency, and both teams looking confident and positive. I thought the Uruguayan midfield showed better today, technically sharp though they don’t cut hard off of their passes in the final third. One of the best halves I’ve seen, and really Uruguay had it right where they wanted, getting the ball into dangerous places in the box and looking absolutely primed to score on every set piece. France was skirting danger with the tugs and pulls, though the Argentine Referee Nestor Pitana never seemed likely to give a PK for what we saw. Uruguay had to feel good about where they were, until Varane glided in off the shoulder and turned the match.


2. Varane...who in the world, exactly, is a better centerback? Like Thiago Silva, he makes everything look very easy. Fast, reads the game, excellent in the air, and completely comfortable with the ball at his feet. He’s the cool head too; someone really needed to drag Mbappe out of the scrum that he unwisely created, which Varane saw too, and then he shepherded the naive Pogba to the bench before he did something stupid--or maybe after. And the goal, a glancing moment of beauty, arriving to pluck the ball from Stuani's head and leave Muslera stranded in unstoppable instant. Would love to get a breakdown from them about that free kick, with the stuttered trigger from Griezemann.


Varane's flick is head in for the winner

At 25, he’s won 15 championships with Real Madrid and for 4 years has--along with Lloris--is the first name penciled into the lineup.


Muslera's punch beats Pogba to a sure goal. When Pogba brings his frame into the game, he adds something few with his touch and vision can do.

3. I’m beginning to feel a just the tiniest twinge of sympathy for Mourinho--Lord I hate to say that, and that will quickly vanish, trust me--regarding the frustration that comes with watching the supremely talented Paul Pogba. I don’t know if there’s ever been as creative, deft-touched 6’3” midfielder as France’s #6. He can do it all--and I thought he was a major defensive contributor today. But he gives the ball away cheaply--fully half of all dispossessions that France suffered were by Pogba. He can hit the most perfect of passes, balls that few others can hit, but his callbration of the odds on when to attempt these balls is too optimistic, and simply results in possession lost. A gorgeous player and he did plenty of good things today; I’d love to see Zidane as his coach...and that doesn’t seem entirely unlikely unless Deschamps brings home the trophy, and perhaps if he does he retires in any case. Zidane to lead France, and mentor Pogba--that’s got a sweet sound to it.



Griezemann with his Atletico Madrid teammate--and son's Godfather--Diego Godin

4. Griezemann, too, can be overly optimistic, at times with flicks that would be gorgeous if they come off, wasteful when they do not. But he’s always at the center of what’s going well, constant movement, showing up all over the attacking half. There’s a brilliant sequence at 37 minutes where Pogba and Griezemann exchange four passes after the latter has come from a run to the deep right and seconds later is left of center, initiating the move. A few moments later, Pavard almost releases the storming Mbappe, Tolisso sneaks in between Betancur and the ball, and from the resulting foul, from which Griezemann finds Varane. It won the game for them (along with Lloris’s supersave). Pogba and Griezemann clearly have a genuine affection for each other on and off the field which is sweet to see. It was also pure class of Griezemann not to celebrate the goal, a mistake by Muslera on the one hand and because he clearly does have an appreciation for Uruguay and his Uruguayan teammates.


The most muted Frenchman in the lot, Griezemann purposefully did not celebrate his goal. And he likes celebrating.

5. Kante...well, he just plays superbly every game, mopping up a lot of the giveaways. One of the most consistent, cool-headed players I've ever seen.


"If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs...."--Kipling. Kante's just waiting to get back to winning balls; the rest is all theater for some other people.


6. Uruguay can hang their heads high, and really need to be recognized for fair play: only Saudi Arabia, Germany, and Spain had fewer yellow cards (though the Mexican referee against Portugal had something to do with that). It was Mbappe who came out the scoundrel in this one. They created chances early, Gimenez superbly denied by Lloris on the header, and were able to suggest the porosity of the French backline. They played the way you’d expect them to win the game, but the break never came.


With this flying lunge, Lloris stakes his claim among the tournament's best saves.


Once down, it’s a completely different proposition for Uruguay from whom everything hinges on the other team needing to chase a goal, and with the Muslera error, the hill became a mountain. This was the first time they’ve played from behind all tournament, and they’re not nearly as good at that. The mids were never able to get close enough to the attack to create any combinations, and Suarez was isolated. He ran his tail off as always, but there just wasn’t much there. Cavani’s absence was quite apparent, and could only cradle his teammates at the end as tears came and defeat sank in. It’s really incredible for such a small nation to have had the run that they’ve had over the past eight years, and we’ll miss seeing the Maestro Tabarez. Adios, Celeste--you gave it your all!


Class act, Cavani. I think he knew when his calf went against Portugal that he wouldn't play in this game. He was missed.



France move on, minus Hernandez, perhaps not a huge problem with Mendy ready to come on.

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