Corner Kickabout: Uruguay vs. France

Dear readers,

As the quarterfinals approach, we see two of our board members’ favorite teams face off: Uruguay, Nathan Strauss’ favorite team, and France, the preferred team of Nick Govindan. In lieu of a regular match preview, we decided to lock these two personalities in a room and have them fight to the death, with the winner being declared as the supporter of the best team, and the winner of a five dollar bet. Joking, joking, but we did have them FaceTime to give their case as to why each team will win on Friday, with a combination of bias and expertise on display. The five dollar bet is completely real, however.


Image result for Uruguay france world cup


Nathan Strauss: Good evening, Nick. I look forward to adding those five dollars to my Venmo wallet. Here’s why I think Uruguay have what it take to beat France. I believe Uruguay are France’s kryptonite: France struggle to score against teams that defend deep, and Uruguay are the best team in this tournament at sitting back and defending while still posing an attacking threat.

Nick Govindan: France have already beaten one team who sit deep at this tournament, and while it was Australia, they have displayed that their willing runners, such as Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann, can unlock a defense with time. Against Argentina, France displayed a ruthless counterattack, capitalizing on Argentina’s giveaways and driving at the experienced Albiceleste midfield with pace and precision. It was displayed on multiple occasions: Mbappe’s box to box run to draw a penalty for France’s first goal and Giroud’s silky link up play with Mbappe again to score France’s fourth. You’re not contending with Denis Cheryshev, Ricardo Quaresma, or even a tired and aging Cristiano Ronaldo. You’ve got to handle the speed and trickiness of Griezmann. You’ve got to handle the explosiveness of Mbappe. You’ve got to handle the link up play and physicality of Giroud, who always raises his game for the national team. You’ve got to handle the steel and flair of Pogba. When you give these young yet experienced talents an inch, they’ll take a mile. France have more than enough varied weapons to cause Uruguay problems.

NS: I mean, Ronaldo didn’t look that old when he was scoring a hat-trick against Spain. In my opinion, Godin has been the best center back at this tournament by far, and he and Jose Maria Gimenez are familiar with Griezmann. I think Uruguay will be able to shut down the passing lanes and force France to play more horizontally. I am wary of the long ball, though, as Uruguay don’t have the paciest defense and Fernando Muslera is solid, but not particularly exemplary at the keeper position. Obviously Mbappe is pacy, but his pace is mitigated by a deep defensive line, to some extent. It’s hard to contain all the talent of a team like France, but I think Uruguay are well-equipped to do it.

NG: If you want to talk about center backs being familiar with an opponent, then I think Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane know more than enough about Luis Suarez to contain him effectively, especially if Edinson Cavani isn’t fully fit to contribute. As for the long ball, while it won’t be France’s preferred method of attack, it will get the best out Olivier Giroud, who always ups his game for big matches with the national team. Giroud’s hold up play against Argentina was exceptional, and his passes to open up the channels for Mbappe were weighted perfectly. In their first group stage match against Australia, the big man’s coming on the second half was key to breaking up a resurging Aussie side, while holding the ball up for Pogba to score the winning goal. The Chelsea striker’s inclusion into the starting eleven has been pivotal to the resurging swagger of a youthful and explosive French attack.

NS: That’s fair. I think both sides actually come into this game with a fair amount of momentum. You talk about having swagger back, but Uruguay can consider themselves in the same boat. Uruguay just scored two beautiful goals against a very good team, and they have only conceded one goal all tournament. Uruguay have the best coach left in this competition. Oscar Tabarez, known as El Maestro, is a brilliant tactician, and he has shown for the past 12 years that he can and will devise a tactical game plan that is capable of defeating any team. I mean, he’s typically not known for being very tactically fluid, with Uruguay playing the 4-4-2, but he has turned their typically rigid formation into almost a 3-5-2 at times, with Lucas Torreira sitting right above the back line and Caceres pinching in, and Diego Laxalt pushing up into the wide spaces. One thing that’s helped with Uruguay’s tactics is the addition of Lucas Torreira, who had 4 blocks, 4 clearances, and two interceptions against Portugal as well as contributing over 50 passes with an accuracy rate of 92%, as well as five accurate long balls against Russia, has done wonders.

NG: I see your Lucas Torreira, and I raise you a N’golo Kante. You can have your unproven Sampdoria midfielder while I’ll take a two time Premier League winning midfielder and a PFA player of the year, who is perhaps the most vital man on the field for France. The Chelsea midfielder’s endurance during this tournament has been second to none, and while Didier Deschamps will probably deploy a more attacking left midfielder like Thomas Lemar to cope with the suspension of Blaise Matuidi, Kante will be more than ready to swarm a rigid and compact Uruguay set-up. Kante covered an insane amount of ground against Argentina, running 9.7 Km (over six miles), and even managed to contain the great Lionel Messi when the Barca superstar would drop back into midfield. I also feel that no France preview would be complete without a short discussion on the Duke of Dabbing: Paul Pogba. The charismatic midfielder has contributed with his feet and his noggin throughout this tournament. He’s won key aerial duels for his team while maintaining a respectable 80% pass completion rate. Pogba has also been clutch, scoring the winner against Australia after making a deep run from midfield, a run he will look to utilize while Uruguay’s defenders are focused on stifling all of France’s attacking options. Kante and Pogba make for an extremely balanced duo in midfield, excelling in both fluidity and fortitude, and I think Torreira and Rodrigo Bentancur will have a tricky time dealing with this Premier League duo.

NS: Keep in mind, by no means am I saying that Uruguay have a better team than France. The French obviously have better players all in all, and a much deeper squad. But as we’ve seen time and time again, depth does not mean much when all it takes is 90 minutes to decide a match. I am officially predicting a 1-1 game that gets decided in extra time or penalties, obviously in favor of Uruguay.

NG: While I do believe that Uruguay will provide the toughest opposition for France thus far, I just think Les Bleus provide too much going forward to be truly contained for 90 minutes. The first half might be an agonizing watch, but in my opinion France find an opportunity to counterattack with numbers and isolate Godin and Gimenez to score a winner. I’m going for a narrow 1-0 win for Les Bleus.

NS: That’s all for tonight, thanks for following along and we look forward to the match on Friday. I’m already making my plans for those five dollars.

NG: As am I, five dollars should be enough for a celebratory croissant or perhaps a croque-monsieur. Remember to check back into Corner Kick for more previews, recaps and opinion pieces as we enter the closing staging of what has been a fantastic World Cup.


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