NIZHNY NOVGOROD • France have dispatched two former World Cup winners in the knockout stages and are only getting better, suggested coach Didier Deschamps in an ominous warning to semi-final opponents Belgium.
After a sluggish first round, the French team exploded to life in a thrilling 4-3 win over Argentina at the start of the knockout phase before completing a workmanlike 2-0 victory over plucky Uruguay in Friday's quarter-final at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.
"We had a complicated first round without being flamboyant, but realistic and effective. We did not break our stride. But, from the match against Argentina, we have grown in strength," said Deschamps. "We were the better team against Uruguay, but there are still some imperfections. We have a lot more potential to show."
He was most pleased by the fact that his relatively young squad showed their maturity despite scenes of petulance near the end that could have cost one or two players a semi-final suspension.
With an average age of 26, France have the second youngest 23-man World Cup squad - alongside England - behind Nigeria.
Raphael Varane and Antoine Griezmann scored the goals and Deschamps was particularly pleased for the former, who had been at fault when Mats Hummels scored Germany's winner in the quarter-finals at the last World Cup.
Varane, who was only 21 in Brazil, was quickly into the firing line. On Friday, the three-time Champions League winner jumped ahead of Cristhian Stuani to glance home Griezmann's free kick.
France have scored from their last six shots on target.
"He has gained four years of experience, in fact they all have more maturity," said Deschamps of the Real Madrid defender.
Deschamps has also placed his faith in one of his older heads, Olivier Giroud, as the 31-year-old assumes a greater role for Les Bleus. In 2014, the striker started twice and played 165 minutes overall, scoring one and creating another.
Despite 380 minutes of action in Russia - four starts and an appearance off the bench, Giroud has yet to register a single shot on target from seven attempts. But Deschamps, a winner in 1998 alongside their under-fire striker Stephane Guivarc'h, who played 268 minutes that edition without finding the net, has already revealed that the Chelsea man will start in St Petersburg on Tuesday.
"It is true Olivier has not scored yet, but - I repeat - yet," the former France skipper was quoted as saying by the BBC.
"He might not have the flamboyant style of other players, but the team needs him in each and every match because even if he does not score, he does many things for us...
"He is useful in attack but also, because of his game, in defence too. He does many things for the team to be balanced."
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said France were worthy winners.
"We couldn't control their strengths," he said. "Today we played against opponents who were better and stronger than us.
"We have to admit it and congratulate them."
REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE