The first of four World Cup quarter-finals on Friday afternoon sees a determined Uruguay face a young and ambitious France side in one of the most fascinating matchups since this edition of the tournament began. The latter looked to have grown in confidence and certainly seemed increasingly dangerous in a 4-3 win that flattered opponents Argentina in the round of 16, while Uruguay – tipped by many to become this summer’s dark horses – are an incredibly solid unit.
Led by Oscar Tabarez, the South Americans will have to be ready for the threat of Kylian Mbappe, the teenager put on a show versus Argentina, and will be sweating over the fitness of both Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez before the match kicks off. Regardless of whether that pair or ready, the coach can field not only a sturdy defence, but he can also boast a modern and capable midfield thanks to a trio of Serie A stars.
Matias Vecino of Inter sits alongside a pair of youngsters with a bright future ahead of them in Juventus midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur (21) and Sampdoria’s Lucas Torreira (22). The fact that they had played just four and three international friendlies respectively before heading to Russia for the World Cup is simply staggering given their performances, but the astute boss had the foresight to recognise potential over experience.
“We didn’t have players capable of keeping up with the demands of the modern game,” admitted the veteran boss to ESPN when questioned over their selection. “[We didn’t have] players with such physical efficiency. Today’s game involves a lot of running, is very intense and [the younger players]play well.”
Indeed, Torreira has made such an impact in his first Serie A campaign that he looks to have secured a move to Arsenal for next season and after playing just three then 31 minutes versus Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Tabarez trusted him enough to play the full 90 in the subsequent 3-0 victory over Russia and 2-1 triumph versus Portugal.
“I want the best for my son and I also know that Arsenal showed a lot of interest in him,” the player’s father told Radio CRC in Italy. “It’s not done, neither is it official, because he hasn’t signed anything, but there’s a great chance that Lucas’ future will be in England. There was no problem in the negotiations, and the latest is that as soon as the World Cup ends, he’ll go to London for a medical.”
It really is no wonder that Torreira looks set to join Arsenal, considering just how easily an inexperienced international player slotted into Tabarez’ tweaked formation after the opening two rounds. The midfielder would complete 53 from 56 passes during his first full 90 minutes of action, while former Boca Juniors man Bentancur completed 23 from 30, having been substituted on 63 minutes.
He too would slot in comfortably when called upon by Juventus during his first season in Italy last term, for example when he put in an assured performance in the Champions League versus Olympiakos when drafted in as a last-minute replacement for Miralem Pjanic after the Bosnian was injured in the warm-up.
They may be young, but these players are more than equipped to provide a match for Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante in the centre of the park on Friday, and they certainly will not be frozen by stage fright either. Experienced boss Oscar Tabarez has plenty of faith in these youngsters who have proven they are ready to take on the challenges faced during Uruguay’s World Cup quarter-final.
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