Uruguay and France will get the quarter-final stage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia under way on Friday. The winners of Group A and Group C, respectively, will meet at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, with a place in the last four and a match against Brazil or Belgium at stake.
The big concern for Uruguay is the fitness of striker Edinson Cavani, who scored twice to help La Celeste beat Portugal 2-1 in the round of 16 on Saturday. The Paris Saint-Germain star exited the match with a calf problem, leaving his chances of starting on Friday in doubt.
France will be more focused on exploiting the pace of their gifted forward line against a formidable Uruguay defence. Specifically, Les Bleus will count on Antoine Griezmann and rising star Kylian Mbappe to decide the tie.
Cavani is unlikely to start, according to beIN Sports (h/t Get French Football News). The situation has left strike partner Luis Saurez worried, per ESPN.com’s Jonathan Johnson: “We have played without Edinson already, during qualification, and the team adapted to the situation. This is different, though—this is a World Cup.”
Playing without Cavani could mean a starting place for Cristhian Stuani, who replaced the 31-year-old against Portugal.
Stuani flopped during a brief spell at Middlesbrough in 2016-17 but thrived at Girona this season, netting 21 goals for a side enjoying a debut campaign in La Liga.
He is flexible enough to play wide or through the middle and may offer a more lateral range of movement than Cavani. Either way, Stuani’s main task will be to keep Suarez supplied with chances.
At the other end, Uruguay will count on Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez coming up with ways to keep Griezmann quiet. All three play for Atletico Madrid, and the inside knowledge could help La Celeste nullify one of the most versatile and intelligent forwards left in the competition.
Cancelling out Mbappe may be tougher, especially after the way the 19-year-old tore through Argentina in the last round. He scored twice and won France a penalty that Griezmann converted.
His pace, long strides and close control make Mbappe a constant threat. The burgeoning talent gives Les Bleus a quick outlet as a target for any long passes over the top.
Godin and Gimenez will need to defend deep in order to prevent Mbappe from stretching the back four and getting in behind.
Uruguay have conceded just one goal through four matches and will know how to set up to keep France frustrated. If the game stays close, Suarez has the flair to prove decisive, even without the support of Cavani.