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Boosted by wunderkind Mbappé, France take on Suarez’s Uruguay

Franck Fife, AFP | Kylian Mbappé (left) celebrates after scoring France's fourth goal against Argentina.

After plodding through the group stage, France’s 4-3 thriller against Argentina, inspired by teen star Kylian Mbappé, saw them reach the last 8. But on Friday they face formidable opponents: a Uruguay team powered by feared striker Luis Suarez.

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The belief that France can beat Uruguay to reach the semi-finals can perhaps be summed up in two words: Kylian Mbappé.

Combining breath-taking speed with razor-sharp finishing, PSG’s (Paris Saint-Germain) 19-year-old striker scored twice and earned a penalty in Les Bleus’ second-round triumph.

On June 30, the day when Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi left the World Cup, probably forever, a new titan marked his presence.

Mbappé joined PSG at the end of the 2017-18 season for €180 million – making him the second most expensive player in the history of football. However, after his grandiose display against Argentina, that price looks like a bargain.

>> Read more : Deschamps promotes new, young talent with France’s World Cup squad

But it should be remembered Mbappé’s teammates played a crucial role in facilitating that second-round performance. Whereas the French attack struggled throughout the group stages, during the Argentina match the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud and Paul Pogba constantly created space, chances and distractions for Mbappé, like multiple conductors of a one-man orchestra.

While Les Bleus’ talismanic wunderkind wreaked havoc among Argentina’s haggard defence, talent blossomed in unexpected areas. Most notably, 22-year-old VfB Stuttgart right-back Benjamin Pavard had not played a single competitive game for France before the World Cup, but his unbelievable 25-yard drive against Argentina will likely be remembered as one of the goals of Russia 2018.

‘Solid and aggressive’ Uruguay

However, Uruguay are not Argentina.

France’s last 16 opponents were lumbered with unremarkable defenders, an old, depleted Javier Mascherano at their core, and a tactical approach (or lack thereof) utterly unlike the Barcelona set-up that is shaped to create chances for Messi.

In contrast, Les Bleus’ quarter-final foes are “solid and aggressive”, as France manager Didier Deschamps noted in a French TV interview.

“These are not qualities displayed by Argentina,” he added.

Uruguay boast a swaggering attack in front of a robust defence. Luis Suarez’s club record speaks for itself: 110 goals in 130 games for Barcelona. Few strikers have the ability to inspire teammates, terrify the opposition and produce the style of footballing tricks like Suarez can.

Admittedly, Edinson Cavani’s probable absence due to injury – after his remarkable double sent Ronaldo’s Portugal packing – is a blow to the South Americans. But as Cavani’s former PSG teammate, French midfielder Blaise Matuidi, pointed out, while “you don’t easily replace one of the best attackers in the world … their way of playing and defending won’t change too much”.

Indeed, Uruguay have one of the most formidable defensive partnerships in the international game, in the shape of Atlético Madrid’s Diego Godin and Jose Maria Giminez. After conceding just one goal in their four World Cup matches, Godin and Giminez are in a different class than any of France’s previous opponents in Russia.

Yet with momentum from their nail-biting display against Argentina, crowned by the headline-grabbing emergence of Mbappé, France are favourites to progress to the semis.

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