An underwhelming France edged past an equally poor Uruguay to become the first team to progress to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals.
Raphael Varane glanced home an Antoine Griezmann free-kick just prior to half-time, and the forward added the second courtesy of a big error from Fernando Muslera.
The majority of the first half suited the Uruguayans, with their bullish and aggressive style able to disrupt the French. Cristhian Stuani and Luis Suarez were guilty of cynical fouls that seemed to frustrate Didier Deschamps’ side.
But while Uruguay were successful in their frustrating of Les Bleus, France also contributed to their own lack of productivity in the first period. It is remarkable that a squad so talented can be so generally poor. Many simple passes went astray and several combinations failed to link up, and it has been this way since they hosted – and failed to win – the European Championships two years prior.
Their only moment of anything resembling quality led to their undeserved first half lead five minutes before the break. Rodrigo Bentancur scythed down Corentin Tolisso and Griezmann’s pinpoint set-piece was met by Varane’s wonderful glancing header.
It nestled in the net and France led, but there was a sense that there was still a big chance that their bullish opponents would come back.
They nearly did just moments later when Hugo Lloris produced a stunning save, diving low to his right to push away Martin Caceres’ header with a strong hand, and earned the luck of being able to see Diego Godin somehow thump the rebound high and wide rather than into the goal that was almost begging him to put the ball into from all of four yards.
The save and miss of the tournament wedged together in the space of three seconds.
Paul Pogba was inches away from doubling France’s lead in the opening minutes of the second half. The Manchester United midfielder dived bravely in an attempt to meet Kylian Mbappe’s inviting free-kick but Muslera beat him to the ball.
This was scarcely the game the neutrals were expecting to be full of supreme quality. Edinson Cavani’s absence was sorely missed by La Celeste and Suarez was idle without his usual partner, instead failing to link up properly with Stuani. Uruguay began to become desperate and their lack of quality was incisive.
And their World Cup dreams were dashed moments later. Muslera failed to get his body behind a speculative Griezmann effort and parried it upwards and the ball agonisingly spun backwards into his own net.
France held on and their back four were the highlight of a fairly average performance. Deschamps will require a far better performance in their last-four tie – against the winners of Belgium and Brazil – if they are to progress to successive major tournament finals.
In the other quarter-final clashes, England face Sweden at 3PM on Saturday afternoon before host nation Russia are up against Croatia later on in the day.