France vs. Uruguay: World Cup gets its first 0-0 tie as Uruguay imitates Italy

Uruguay’s ‘La Celeste’ frustrates France by stacking the defense and playing for a tie just the way Italy normally does.

Francois Mori/AP
France's Thierry Henry, second from right, speaks with Uruguay's Diego Forlan, left, and France's Franck Ribery, right, during the World Cup group A soccer match between Uruguay and France in Cape Town, South Africa, on Friday.

South American minnows Uruguay did their best to irritate a mighty France team today by imitating the team that edged out France in the last World Cup championship match four years ago: Italy.

A cautious “La Celeste” flooded the area in front of its goal with defenders, allowing France to control the ball and hoping its dynamic duo up front could capitalize on the counterattack.

The problem? Uruguay doesn’t quite have the top-caliber attackers that Italy does, so it can’t count on scoring on the few chances it gets.

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Another problem, it didn’t make for exciting soccer.

This is the traditional criticism of Italy as well: They play for ties, not wins.

“Uruguay would do cartwheels if they got a point out of this,” said ESPN announcer Ian Darke. “Goodness knows what they’d do if they got a win.”

This brand of soccer is one reason open-minded Americans are consistently stymied when they try to get into the World Cup. Why would you want to watch 90 minutes of a game that one of the teams is not even trying to win?

France did its best to change the course of events, putting in striker Thierry Henry and attacking midfielder Florent Malouda with about 20 minutes left in the match.

But the effort to bring some spark to the French team could not produce a goal. They created more chances, but were unable to crack Uruguay’s stifling defense.

“Uruguay may be negative, but defensively brilliant,” said Mr. Darke at the end of the game, his voice full of resignation.

La Celeste wore him down. They wore us all down.

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[Editor's note: In the original version, the caption of the photo had the wrong last name for Diego Forlan.]

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