World Cup Quarterfinal: Will it be blue skies when Uruguay face France?
Two former World Cup winners collide in Russia 2018's first quarter-final. Both France and Uruguay remain unbeaten so far. The Nizhny Novgorod Stadium prepares to host its sixth and final game.
The two sides have impressed during their journey to the last eight. France eased through Group C. They never had to find top gear, defeating Australia and Peru before a draw with Denmark. Likewise, Uruguay topped Group A without hitting top form. They proved too much for Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Russia, winning all three matches.
La Celeste showed their quality in the last 16 to dispatch Cristiano Ronaldo and Co, 2-1. For the most part, Portugal's talisman was kept quiet. Edinson Cavani ensured the defensive effort paid off with two well-taken goals.
Les Bleus triumphed 4-3 over Argentina to book their quarter-final place. In one of the tournament's most enthralling games, Kylian Mbappe stole the headlines with two brilliant goals.
France and Uruguay have met seven times in total. The South Americans have two victories; the Europeans one. They have clashed three times at World Cup's, with the last two contests, in 2002 and 2010, ending goalless. Their first meeting was in the 1966 group stage, which Uruguay won 2-1.
Les Bleus famously won the World Cup on home soil in 1998. La Celeste have lifted the trophy twice, as hosts in the competition's debut in 1930 and again twenty years later.
One major issue hanging over the Uruguayans is Cavani's fitness. He and Luis Suarez have started all four games up front together in Russia. The Paris Saint-Germain forward limped off against Portugal in the second half. Having not trained on Wednesday, less than 48 hours before the quarter-final, he's unlikely to play.
Cavani missing out would be a huge blow for Uruguay. Although Luis Suarez is no doubt one of the world's top strikers, he performs better alongside his trusted partner. Manager Oscar Tabarez has stuck to a 4-2-2 formation in this tournament. If his top goalscorer can't feature, he may consider switching system.
La Celeste's main strength arguably lies at the other end. They have conceded just once in four matches. Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez contend as this World Cup's best centre-back pairing. The Atletico Madrid teammates must continue peak form in order to keep another clean sheet against France.
Rodrigo Bentancur is just one yellow card away from suspension. Surprisingly, the midfield is Uruguay's only player to have received a booking so far.
Having overcome Argentina, the French are now the second favourites to triumph in Russia. They possess world-class talent in every area. If Les Bleus work as a collective unit, they're more than capable of going all the way.
Blaise Matuidi is suspended for the last eight encounter after picking up two yellow cards. The midfielder will be sorely missed. Another four players are a caution away from suspension. Benjamin Pavard, Corentin Tolisso, Pau Pogba, and Olivier Giroud may all have one eye on the semi-finals.
Didier Deschamps has changed his starting eleven from game to game. Giroud was preferred up top in the last match. Yet, despite his and Antoine Griezmann's presence, Mbappe is France's biggest threat.
Uruguay's defence will be tough to break down. However, Les Bleus have many different attacking options.
Cavani's absence could prove crucial. Suarez can't do it alone. The game's key battles will be at the other end. A classic defence versus attack. Uruguay must stick with their own way to stand any chance of progressing.
France are too strong in midfield and attack, though. Even if La Celeste stop Mbappe, they still have to deal with Pogba, Griezmann and Giroud.
Les Bleus will prevail in a tight contest. 1-0.