France coach Didier Deschamps praised his young team for their “deserved” quarter-final victory over Uruguay in Nizhny Novgorod but then fired an ominous warning: we can do better.
Goals from Raphael Varane and Antoine Griezmann were enough to beat a hard-working but outclassed Uruguay side and France can look forward to a semi-final clash with Belgium or Brazil in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday.
“I think we deserved the result. We played against the beautiful Uruguay side but we played better than them and had more control, especially in the second half,” said Deschamps.
“But it wasn’t a perfect match. There were some technical issues. We can always play better.”
The 1998 World Cup-winning skipper seemed particularly pleased his side had given Uruguay so few opportunities, especially from set-pieces.
As it happened, the crucial goal, Varane’s 40th-minute header, came from a France free-kick and Deschamps was reminded it was the Real Madrid defender who was beaten by Germany’s Mats Hummels when Les Blues crashed out at this stage four years ago in Brazil.
“Varane made a mistake then but he has four more years’ experience now and it’s often in tough times you learn the most,” the 49-year-old said.
France had 57 per cent of the possession and made nearly 200 more passes than Uruguay but only had two shots on target – a meagre return for a line-up that included Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba.
“We can link our passes better – there were good opportunities that broke down because the pass wasn’t quite right,” he admitted.
When asked if he was concerned that Olivier Giroud had still not scored at Russia 2018, Deschamps replied “yet”, suggesting the Chelsea striker’s position in the starting line-up is safe.
“He might not have a flamboyant style but he keeps us balanced and the players around him benefit,” he added.
Oscar Tabarez, his opposite number, was magnanimous and matter-of-fact in defeat.
“We didn’t play as well as our rival and that’s why we lost,” the 71-year-old said.
“We made a huge effort in the first 20 minutes but after that we were not able to exploit the problems France had and then they scored. That’s a detail that makes a huge impact on a game like a quarter-final.
“We talked about it at half-time to see if we could solve it right away, and made some substitutions, but then France got their second goal and were able to control the game.
“The boys gave everything but by the end there was a huge difference between the teams, I admit that.”
Tabarez admitted not many teams score headers from set-pieces against his side but refused to blame his goalkeeper Fernando Muslera for letting Griezmann’s shot slip through his fingers for France’s second.
“Only those who don’t do anything don’t make mistakes. They can all hold their heads high,” he said.
He also did not use Edinson Cavani’s injury-enforced absence as an excuse, although that undoubtedly made life much easier for France.
There were also warm words for Uruguay’s efforts from Griezmann, who was named man of the match.
Much was made of the France striker’s soft spot for the South American country in the days before the game – Uruguay’s Diego Godin is the godfather to his daughter – and that was highlighted when he did not celebrate France’s second goal, his third of the tournament.
“I didn’t celebrate because when I started in the game I was supported by a Uruguayan who taught me about football and I have a lot of respect for Uruguay,” he said.
“I was also playing against friends, so I thought it was normal not to celebrate.”