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Speed vs defense: Mbappe hopes to lead France over Uruguay

France's Antoine Griezmann makes exercices during a training session at the 2018 soccer World Cup in Glebovets, Russia, Wednesday, July 4, 2018. (AP Photo/David Vincent)

France’s Antoine Griezmann makes exercices during a training session at the 2018 soccer World Cup in Glebovets, Russia, Wednesday, July 4, 2018. (AP Photo/David Vincent)

NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (AP) – 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.

“It’s flattering to be the second one since Pele,” said Mbappe, born in France to a father from Cameroon and a mother from Algeria. “But let’s put things in perspective. Pele’s another category.”

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.”

NEYMAR THREAT

Despite scoring nine times in wins over Panama (3-0), Tunisia (5-2) and England (1-0) before the Japan game, Belgium will have to lift their game significantly to beat a well-drilled Brazil side increasingly dancing to the tune of star forward Neymar.

Neymar signalled he had well and truly put a recent injury lay-off behind him with an incisive performance in a 2-0 win over Mexico in Samara, where he scored the opener and set up Roberto Firmino for his maiden World Cup goal.

Even more is expected from Neymar, whose pace, technique and all-round vision allied to Willian’s slick movement gave Brazil another dimension.

For all Brazil’s attacking riches, Belgium’s biggest problem could be piercing a robust defence that has conceded just once, in their 1-1 opening draw with Switzerland.

Brazil centre-back pairing Joao Miranda and Thiago Silva have been solid and will aim to keep it that way as the five-time champions target a place in the semi-finals and a match with either France or Uruguay.

“We’re progressing, that’s evident,’’ Silva said after their win over Mexico. ‘’It was a complicated match against a dangerous side, but we were solid at the back.’’

Mistakes such as the ones that allowed Japan to grab a two-goal lead are sure to be punished by Neymar but it is Brazil’s defence that is also catching the eye of observers.

“As a former defender, I love watching Silva and Miranda play,’’ former France defender William Gallas said in his role as a consultant for French radio station RMC. (With a report from AFP)

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