NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (Reuters) - Uruguay’s players urged France forward Antoine Griezmann on Monday to remember his links and affection for their country ahead of Friday’s World Cup quarter-final.
The Frenchman plays with Uruguayan defenders Jose Gimenez and Diego Godin at Atletico Madrid, met them at Madrid airport in a Uruguayan shirt when they sealed qualification for Russia, and even enjoys the ‘mate’ tea loved by the South Americans.
“Griezmann is very Uruguayan, he passes himself off as a Uruguayan. For him, it’s going to be a special game, like for us,” midfielder Nahitan Nandez told reporters at the Uruguayan base outside Nizhny Novgorod where they will play Friday’s game.
“All I can say is that we hope he behaves well on the pitch and remembers he is half Uruguayan!”
Such is the close relationship that Godin is godfather to Griezmann’s daughter.
As usual, the Uruguayans looked chilled off the pitch - a contrast with their hard tackling and famous “garra” or fighting spirit on it. After beating Portugal 2-1 to secure a quarter-final spot, they celebrated with a barbecue and family visits.
The only cloud in the Uruguayan camp was a calf injury to two-goal hero Edinson Cavani, who was helped off the pitch by Cristiano Ronaldo and is now fighting to get fit for Friday.
“He’s very happy with qualifying and with his own performance and the team the other day,” said midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur. “Today he worked on his recovery. His mood is very good. We have just have to wait and see how his recovery goes each day, and how he feels.”
The players are under no illusion of the enormity of their challenge against France, who dumped out Argentina in a 4-3 thriller featuring two goals from pacy teenager Kylian Mbappe.
“They look good, their speed play is incredible. We’ll try and stay tight,” said Bentancur.
“They have good players... but if there’s something we know, it’s how to turn a game in our favour,” added Nandez.
Bentancur looked bemused when a Russian journalist informed him a street near Nizhny Novgorod Stadium carried his name. “What a coincidence. Let’s hope it brings luck!” he said.
Another local feature that initially irked the Uruguayans was the fact their hotel is painted in Brazil colours. But after four wins in four, maybe that is becoming a lucky omen too.
Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Christian Radnedge