NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (TNS) — Antoine Griezmann learned how to play soccer in France. But it was a Uruguayan who taught him how to be a professional.
So when the French striker scored the biggest goal of his international career Friday, the one that ended Uruguay's World Cup, he betrayed no emotion. Instead he simply dropped his head, turned around and went back to work.
"I didn't celebrate that goal because when I started as a professional player, I was supported by a Uruguayan who taught me the good and the bad in football," Griezmann said through a translator. "So out of respect, it was normal not to celebrate my goal."
Yet about an hour later, many on the Uruguayan side were celebrating France and Griezmann, who set up the first goal and scored the second in a 2-0 victory that sends the French on to a World Cup semifinal against Belgium, who beat Brazil, 2-1, while sending Uruguay home.
"We weren't as good as France. That's the way we see it," said Uruguayan coach Oscar Tabarez after his team's only loss of the World Cup. "We played against an opponent stronger than us. We have to admit it."
Griezmann admitted to mixed emotions heading into the game. Two of his club teammates at Spain's Atletico Madrid play for Uruguay and one of them, captain Diego Godin, is the godfather of Griezmann's daughter.
And when Griezmann made his first-division debut in 2009 for Spain's Real Sociedad, it was under Uruguayan coach Martin Lasarte.
"I have a lot of respect for Uruguay as a country and the Uruguayan culture," said Griezmann, who exchanged a pair of hugs with Godin before the game and brief embraces with Godin and club teammate Jose Gimenez afterward. "I was also playing against friends."
But he was playing for his country, one he has helped take a big step toward its first World Cup final since 2006. He helped open the scoring in the 40th minute when he bent a left-footed free kick into the box for Raphael Varane, whose glancing header was just the second goal Uruguay had allowed in the tournament.
That goal also marked the first time Uruguay had trailed in the World Cup.
The South Americans, who entered the day with more set-piece goals than any other team in the tournament, nearly tied the score minutes later when a long free kick from Lucas Torreira was headed on target by Martin Caceres. But French keeper Hugo Lloris, who had an outstanding game, made a diving one-handed stop at the left post and Godin, charging after the rebound, could not put it on target from a tough angle.
That proved costly when Griezmann doubled the lead 16 minutes into the second half on a shot from outside the penalty area that was misplayed by Uruguayan keeper Fernando Muslera, who got both hands on the ball but couldn't handle it cleanly, deflecting it behind him and just across the goal line.
"It always hurts," said Godin, who played on the Uruguayan team that reached the World Cup semifinals eight years ago. "It was really difficult once we went down a goal against a team that was organized, solid, that ran all over the field (and) that was good in the midfield."
Uruguay was also playing without leading scorer Edinson Cavani, who injured a calf in the team's Round-of-16 win over Portugal. And though that was a factor, teammate Luis Suarez said, it wasn't an excuse.
"If he could have played, it would have been a huge help," Suarez said in Spanish. "But ... we didn't have him."
"Obviously I'm sad because we've been eliminated. But we've got to lift our heads up and not let it get us down," he continued. "Getting to the final eight in the world isn't easy. And we have the privilege to be in that eight. That validates the effort and the sacrifice we put in in qualifying."
Meanwhile, France, which hasn't lost in this tournament, insists that it has plenty of room for improvement.
"We played better," coach Didier Deschamps said. "But we didn't play the perfect game. We can always play better."
Griezmann agreed, promising the next goal he scores will be one worth celebrating
"We have a team that can hurt any team," he said. "We have to remain levelheaded and continue working. When we are focused on our style, we have greater opportunities to win."