MOSCOW (Reuters) - After taking the blame for France’s World Cup quarter-final exit four years ago, Raphael Varane exorcised the ghosts of 2014 with the opening goal as France beat Uruguay 2-0 to advance to the semifinals in Russia.
The centre back, who was only 21 at the time, took the blame for France’s defeat to Germany in Rio de Janeiro when he was dismissively brushed aside in an aerial duel with Mats Hummels that proved decisive his team’s 1-0 defeat.
But in Nizhny Novgorod four years on, Varane rose to apply a perfectly-timed header to a deft free kick from Antoine Griezmann to send the ball into the corner of the Uruguay net and set France on their way to victory.
“I told Antoine to give me a chance to try with my head and he delivered perfectly,” Varane told French television after scoring in Friday’s game.
It was a much more confident attack of the ball in contrast to the way he tried to defend against Hummels in Brazil and ended up being outdone by the more experienced German.
Didier Deschamps said he had apportioned no blame four years ago but was pleased to dish out praise in Russia.
“He was not guilty four years ago against Germany,” said the coach after France booked a semi-final against Belgium in St Petersburg on Tuesday.
“I’m happy for him, and I told him that at the end of the match. In football you have to face up to the difficult moments. And four years on, my players have grown up. They have more maturity and experience.”
Varane, closing in on 50 caps even though he is only 25, is now on course to win both the Champions League and World Cup in a matter of months.
He has already won three Champions League titles with Real Madrid and might have had one more but was injured in 2016, also missing the European Championship as a result.
Deschamps made him captain when resting several players for the last of their Group C game, a goalless draw against Denmark in Moscow.
“His style of play serves as motivation to his teammates,” said Deschamps’ deputy Guy Stephan earlier in the week. “Raphael has a lot of confidence from playing so many games at a high level with Real Madrid.”
Editing by Brian Homewood