As a contest, Wednesday’s international friendly between Uruguay and France hardly deserved the sort of goal Luis Suarez gave shortly after the restart.
Accepting a neatly-placed ball from Maxi Pereira, the controversial Liverpool striker held off 22-year-old Porto defender Eliaquim Mangala before slipping a delicate finish past goalkeeper Steve Mandanda from an impossible angle as he fell to the ground.
It was the sort of impact Uruguay has become accustomed to and it’s just one reason they’ll sorely miss him when they look to make up ground on Venezuela in World Cup qualifying next Tuesday.
Suarez, not surprisingly, is suspended for the match, which will see La Celeste facing a gap that could be as wide as five points by the time they take the field in Ciudad Guayana.
That they’ll be playing away from home will only make their task all the more challenging as they have so far claimed just one point on their travels in South American qualifying.
At least they’ll be going into the match riding a win. It’s not often they’ve been able to say that of late.
Manager Oscar Tabarez, who bookended three central defenders with a pair of wing-backs, saw his side put under pressure from a second-string France outfit from the opening kickoff on Wednesday, and but for a pair of Fernando Muslera saves on Mathieu Valbuena and Yoann Gourcuff might have gone into the break with a deficit instead of a scoreless draw.
To his credit, Tabarez made a trio of changes ahead of the restart that paid noticeable dividends in the second half—none more so than the exchange of Diego Forlan for Suarez.
It took only three minutes for Suarez to make his mark, and over the remaining 42 Gaston Ramirez, who had replaced Nicolas Lodeiro, made a favourable impression as well.
The other substitution involved captain Diego Lugano, who played precious little football in 2012-13 after quitting Paris Saint-Germain for Malaga. It was 37-year-old Nacional centre-back Andres Scotti who came in for the skipper—just another example of the lack of depth in Tabarez's setup these days.
France has no such dearth of options.
The team deployed by manager Didier Deschamps was an experimental XI more than anything else, but they hardly embarrassed themselves against an opponent considerably more experienced than themselves so far from home.
Les Bleus will face Brazil in another friendly on Sunday before dispersing for summer holidays, so Deschamps has the option of testing a handful of his up-and-coming players ahead of the resumption of World Cup qualifying in September.
France, despite sitting second in UEFA Qualification Group I to world champions Spain, will be expected to turn up in Brazil next year even if a playoff is required. Uruguay, meanwhile, has to suddenly hit a purple patch of form and hope the likes of Venezuela and Chile drop points down the stretch.
In other words, it’s out of their hands. An aging corps of players combined with a lack of prospects in the pipeline is the major reason why.
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