Uruguay, hard-hit by the absence of injured key striker Edinson Cavani, showed plenty of commitment.
Raphael Varane’s glancing header and a goalkeeping blunder that gifted Antoine Griezmann a soft goal gave France a 2-0 victory over Uruguay in the first World Cup quarterfinal here on Friday.
Uruguay went into the game without key striker Edinson Cavani, who was ruled out with a calf injury with Cristhian Stuani drafted into the starting line-up and the impact on its attack was noticeable.
France forward Kylian Mbappe, who had ripped apart Argentina in the previous round with his directness and pace, wasted a good opportunity to open the scoring in the 15th minute when Olivier Giroud headed across the box to him but the 19-year-old’s looping header was off-target.
A relatively quiet game sprung to life in the 40th minute when Varane sprinted clear of his marker to meet a well-placed Griezmann free-kick with a perfectly angled header.
It was only the Real Madrid player’s third goal for France and represented redemption for Varane after he was largely blamed for the goal which saw France lose at the quarterfinal stage to Germany four years ago.
Moments later, France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris ensured his side went in at the break with the advantage, producing a brilliant one-handed save to keep out a Martin Caceres header although Diego Godin will be disappointed his follow-up shot was wildly off target.
If that was an example of goalkeeping at its very best, Uruguay’s Fernando Muslera showed how easily it can go wrong for the custodian with a horrendous error to gift France its second goal in the 61st minute.
Griezmann tried his luck with an effort from outside the box which was straight at Muslera but the keeper’s ill-chosen attempt to palm the ball away ended with him merely deflecting the ball into the net.
Uruguay captain Godin praised his team mates as “lions” and said Muslera’s error for the second goal should be forgiven.
“I’m proud of my team mates — they were lions,” Godin said, as he and the Uruguay players came off the pitch in tears.
“We are a team where everyone gives everything in the matches and in preparation. I have only words of gratitude for my team mates,” he added, as Uruguay’s noisy fans cheered them off.
“Fernando is a great goalkeeper … We all make mistakes,” Godin said. “On other occasions he has rescued us with incredible saves.”
France has gone on to reach the World Cup final the last two times it advanced to the semifinals. It won its only World Cup in 1998 on home soil, and in 2006 lost to Italy on penalties.
The quarterfinal pitted France’s speed against Uruguay’s stubborn defence and its occasional attacking threats.
But with Cavani injured and on the bench and Suarez neutralised, it was France all the way.
Suarez, who scored two goals in the group stage, didn’t get a single touch on the ball in France’s penalty area for the entire match.
Although he didn’t score, 19-year-old Mbappe again looked dangerous on the attack, trying to slice in from the right wing or directing quick passes into Uruguay’s defence.
Mbappe, who has modelled his game after Cristiano Ronaldo and is being compared to Zinedine Zidane, also picked up a second-half yellow card for falling to the ground as if in agony after a touch from an opponent.
Uruguay, led by 71-year-old coach Oscar Tabarez, was trying to reach the semifinals for the second time in the last three World Cups. Heading into the match, Uruguay had been unbeaten in 2018 and had allowed only one goal in its first four World Cup matches in Russia.
A country of only 3.5 million, Uruguay won World Cup titles in 1930 and 1950 and then waned. But it has undergone a revival in the last 12 years under Tabarez, a former elementary school teacher.