Uruguay v France
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NIZHNY NOVGOROD • The build-up to today's quarter-final clash between France and Uruguay has been dominated by individuals, but it may be the South Americans' almost unbreachable four-man defence which decide the result.
While the French are pinning their hopes on forward Kylian Mbappe, 19, it is unlikely that the teenager star has encountered a defence quite like Uruguay's.
Led by captain Diego Godin, and including Jose Gimenez, Martin Caceres and Diego Laxalt, along with goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, Uruguay's defence have the joint-best record at the World Cup.
They finished the group stage without conceding a goal and the only player to score against them was Portugal's Pepe in the last 16, and that was ultimately in vain.
Brazil are the only other team to have conceded just one goal so far.
Uruguay have conceded three fewer goals than France. Both teams have scored seven times.
With more than 350 international caps, the experienced defence are supremely well-organised and have already served notice that Mbappe will not have the same kind of freedom he enjoyed against Argentina, when he scored a brace in the 4-3 last-16 victory.
"If you let France have space, it will be very difficult," Uruguay's coach Oscar Tabarez said.
About Mbappe, everybody knows he's a really good player, he's like (Thierry) Henry a few years ago.
'' LUIS SUAREZ, Uruguay striker on the threat posed by French teenage star Kylian Mbappe.
COUNTERING THE DEFENCE
The Uruguayans... will change the way to defend Mbappe. It is then up to us to put him in good positions.
'' ANTOINE GRIEZMANN, on how France will counter Uruguay's game plan of stopping his fellow striker Mbappe.
Uruguay's own hotshot Luis Suarez added: "About Mbappe, everybody knows he's a really good player, he's like (Thierry) Henry a few years ago. But I think we have a really good defence to control him - and the (whole) France team."
France's concern is knowing the best way to utilise not only Mbappe but also his fellow attacker, Antoine Griezmann.
The French limped through the group stage but burst into life in their exhilarating win over Argentina, inspired by Mbappe. But France coach Didier Deschamps is already expecting a different kind of game from Uruguay compared to the seven-goal thriller in Kazan. He termed the Uruguayans "solid and aggressive", adding: "These are not qualities displayed by Argentina."
The clash will also see many club-mates come up against one another. Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani, who is likely to miss the match with a calf injury, plays with Mbappe at Paris Saint-Germain.
Godin and Gimenez are colleagues - and close friends - with Griezmann at Atletico Madrid.
Rodrigo Bentancur and Blaise Matuidi play for Juventus. Suarez and French defender Samuel Umtiti are Barcelona team-mates.
One of the key battles will be Godin and Gimenez trying to stop Mbappe and Griezmann, who is a self-confessed lover of all things Uruguayan, from grilled meat to bitter-tasting infusion mate.
Griezmann's love affair with Uruguay began when he played for Real Sociedad in 2009.
Having spent his entire career in Spain, Griezmann has had a steady stream of Uruguayan teammates. He began drinking mate at Sociedad with former Uruguay striker Carlos Bueno and was persuaded to join Atletico in 2014 by Godin.
"He says he is Uruguayan," said Godin. "He has always been surrounded by Uruguayan players. He likes how we are and our customs: eating the barbecue, our music, he even drinks more mate than me."
That could be a major plus for Griezmann and France, as the 27-year-old striker knows exactly how Uruguay will set up to defend against him and Mbappe.
"The Uruguayans will have watched the match (France v Argentina) - they will change the way to defend Mbappe. It is then up to us to put him in good positions," Griezmann said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS