Tim Groothuis-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Paul Pogba
France vs. Uruguay, 10 a.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
- France -103
- Uruguay +366
- Draw +216
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Diego Godin to Score First Goal +4850 (Bookmaker)
These are the two best defensive teams left in the tournament. Despite conceding three goals to Argentina, France conceded only four shots on target and 10 total shots. Sometimes 35-yard bombs and weird deflections happen. Uruguay, meanwhile, have given up one goal in the entire tournament. They’re built to win matches 1-0 while venturing forward as little as possible, doubly so since they’re expected to be without one of their two star strikers, Edinson Cavani, for at least the first part of the game.
Uruguay will be happy to sit back and make the game as muddy as possible while depending on either a wonder-strike from their remaining star forward, Luis Suarez, or more likely a set-piece goal. While Uruguay have experimented with their formation a little bit and have come to rely on a narrow diamond midfield, it hasn’t changed their extremely defensive — and effective — approach to international soccer. They do the thing they’ve done for the better part of a decade, and they do it very well.
France, meanwhile, will happily allow Uruguay to play their defensive style without taking many risks to break them down. The major question facing Didier Deschamps is how he’ll replace the suspended Blaise Matuidi. Matuidi plays vaguely on the left and vaguely in front of his midfield partners Paul Pogba and N’golo Kane (to the extent that it might also be accurate to call him the left-sided midfielder in the band of three attackers in front of Pogba and Kante). He brings defensive pressing abilities to advanced areas of the field, and is generally tasked with shutting down the opposition’s attacks before they start.
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His suspension means Deschamps will need to decide between Corentin Tolisso, Thomas Lemar and Steven N’zonzi. Tolisso is a true center midfielder who is both a good pressing defender and creative passer, but who struggled when he started the opening match of the World Cup. Lemar is a hybrid left winger who is comfortable coming into central areas, and is by far the most aggressive midfield option. N’Zonzi could come in and anchor the midfield while Pogba moved into a more advanced position. Lastly, if Deschamps wants a truly attacking lineup, he could elect to start Ousman Dembele, although starting Dembele alongside Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud would result in France depending on only two midfielders to patrol the rest of the territory.
However Descahmps decides to line up, it’s likely that France will not pour men forward in an attempt to overwhelm Uruguay. Instead, as they always do, France will leave their talented attackers on an island and depend on their skills to break down a determined defense, while making sure the rest of the team is held in reserve to not give up space on the counterattack.
It’s a method that’s worked so far, and probably won’t stop now. In the event that it does, though, expect Uruguay’s goal to come ugly from the kind of physical moment they excel on, with a big defender coming forward and scoring a towering header in a crowded penalty area.