NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia — France picked up two trophies in 1998: One, of course, was the country’s only World Cup title, won on home soil. It was also the birth year of Kylian Mbappe, the 19-year-old who’s emerging as one of the biggest stars of the World Cup.
“Well, that was a good year for him to be born, even if he didn’t see much of the 1998 World Cup,” joked French coach Didier Deschamps, who was the captain in `98. “I’m very happy that Mbappe is a French citizen.”
It will be France’s searing speed led by Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann against Uruguay‘s defense anchored by Diego Godin on Friday in Nizhny Novgorod in the World Cup quarterfinals. The winner will face Brazil or Belgium.
Uruguay has given up only one goal in four World Cup matches, and France has scored seven — most in the 4-3 victory over Argentina in the round of 16.
In scoring twice against Argentina , Mbappe became the first teenager with multiple goals in a World Cup knockout game since a 17-year-old Pele did it twice (including a hat trick against France) in 1958. It’s a big stage with inevitable comparisons that Mbappe smiled about and then batted away.
This is France’s seventh quarterfinal and its fourth in the last six World Cups dating back to 1998 and the famous side led by Deschamps, Patrick Vieira, Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry — the so-called “Rainbow Team” from a multicultural France.
“In a World Cup you have the top-level players,” said Mbappe, who plays for Paris Saint-Germain. “So it’s an opportunity to show what you can do and what your abilities are. There is no better place than a World Cup.”
After three lackluster games in group play, France was electric in its most recent match, particularly in the second half when it cut up Argentina’s plodding defense. Five of France’s starters in the first group match had never played in the World Cup, including Mbappe.
“You need some patience,” Deschamps said. Deschamps has compared playing Uruguay to facing Peru, which narrowly lost to France 1-0 in group play on a goal by Mbappe.
He termed Uruguay “solid and aggressive” in a French television interview, adding: “These are not qualities displayed by Argentina.” The match will showcase several cross-border friendships.
Griezmann plays at Atletico Madrid where his teammates are Uruguayan defenders Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez. Godin is the godfather of Griezmann’s daughter.
While Godin and Gimenez will try to stop Griezmann, Uruguay striker Luis Suarez will be opposing Barcelona teammate Samuel Umtiti. “I’ve always joked … that I wanted to face Umtiti at a World Cup,” Suarez said. “And it came true.”
His absence would be a blow to the South Americans, but defense is the real key with coach Oscar Tabarez expecting to see less of the ball.
“I think very often there’s the mistaken belief that ball possession leads to scoring opportunities,” said Tabarez, who took over in 2006. “If you don’t have ball possession, you can still inflict pain.”