NIZHNY NOVGOROD (Reuters) - Uruguay will seek to summon up all their famous defensive spirit in Friday’s quarter-final against France to shackle the Europeans’ lighting-fast teenage top-scorer Kylian Mbappe.
The South Americans have conceded just one goal - the joint lowest in the tournament with Brazil - in four straight wins on their way to the showdown in Nizhny Novgorod.
But 19-year-old Mbappe has announced himself as one of the world’s hottest talents with three goals, including two against Argentina and an amazing 70-metre sprint that ended with him winning a penalty.
“About Mbappe, everybody knows he’s a really good player, he’s like (Thierry) Henry a few years ago,” Uruguay’s own hotshot Luis Suarez told reporters after training on Tuesday.
“But I think we have a really good defense to control him - but not just one player, the (whole) France team.”
As well as Mbappe, Uruguay will have another tricky French forward, Antoine Griezmann, to contend with.
That duel comes with a twist, given Griezmann’s affection for Uruguay and friendship with their two central defenders Jose Gimenez and Diego Godin at Atletico Madrid.
Suarez did not expect that to cloud Griezmann’s desire to help France into the semi-final, though.
“He knows it is the World Cup. In the World Cup, it is a different mentality,” he said. “We know it’s a special game for us, I don’t know for him. He’s a really good player, he’s brilliant with the left foot.”
Midfielder Diego Laxalt said Uruguay would dig deep into its so-called “Garra Charrua” fighting spirit - named after a ferocious South American warrior tribe - to stop France.
“We know they have a strong attack. We need to go out with a lot of sacrifice ... be solid at the back, deny them space to maximize their speed,” he told a news conference.
“We want to stop them playing, make their strikers uncomfortable, that’s our weapon. Making them respect us.”
Uruguay’s own impressive front line may be without Edinson Cavani, who suffered a calf injury after scoring two fabulous goals against Portugal in the last 16.
He is fighting for fitness.
“About Cavani, we don’t know, we’re just waiting for a few days,” Suarez said. “His significance, both for my play and for the team, is key because of the class of player he is.”
Suarez revealed he had spoken to Argentina captain and Barcelona team mate Lionel Messi after his exit from the World Cup, but declined to give details.
“I spoke as a friend - obviously that stays between us.”
Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Hugh Lawson