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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 15 October 2018

Suarez and Cavani upstage Ronaldo to set up enticing Uruguay v France World Cup quarter-final

Portugal join Argentina in exiting at the last-16 stage, meaning the two biggest stars in football both departed the tournament on the same day

Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez combined for Uruguay's first goal in the 2-1 win over Portugal. Hannah Mckay / Reuters
Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez combined for Uruguay's first goal in the 2-1 win over Portugal. Hannah Mckay / Reuters

The first day of knockout competition at the 2018 World Cup will inevitably be headlined for the two resonant exits. Lionel Messi leaves the stage, closely followed by Cristiano Ronaldo.

It’s as if they can’t help themselves, forever looking what the other one is up to via the rear-view mirror. There is sadness to see these duellers go, but what they step aside for is a compelling quarter-final between a France who have upped a gear and a Uruguay who defend with huge skill and can attack, as they showed against Portugal, with swagger and style.

Whether we see either Messi or Ronaldo again at a World Cup is doubtful. Ronaldo, who will turn 37 years old several months before the next World Cup, in Qatar in late 2022, would not be drawn on how his international future looks after a 2-1 defeat at the Fisht stadium.

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More from 2018 World Cup:

Day 17 talking points: New kid on the block, South America's dark horse and the best game so far?

John McAuley: Relaxed Zlatko Dalic ready for Croatia's date with destiny against Denmark

Spain v Russia: Spain 'can't shy away' despite World Cup upheaval, insists Cesar Azpilicueta

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He took the defeat with fairly good grace, at least after he had cooled down in the dressing-room after the final whistle and a late confrontation with referee Cesar Ramos as his Portugal desperately sought a second equaliser.

Ronaldo called Portugal “the better team”, but qualified that claim with an acknowledgement that “the ones who score the most goals are the winners, and we should congratulate Uruguay”.

Uruguay scored the best two goals of the contest, too, both from Edinson Cavani, both of high class and both very distinct. The first was essentially a 1-2, or what used to be called a "wall-pass", except this exchange went the full breadth of the pitch. It was a celebration of two great strikers, in a match when the value of having a pair of greats up front trumped the value of having just the one superman, as Portugal do.

Cavani started the move, picking up the ball just inside the Portugal half, wide on the right. He looked up, and at a distance far away enough that a pair of binoculars might have been useful, spied Suarez, all but hugging the left touchline.

Cavani, with a sweep of his right foot, issued an inch-perfect crossfield pass. Suarez gratefully chested it down, encouraged his marker, Ricardo to lean to his right, whereupon Suarez darted the other way and swept a deep cross towards the far corner of Portugal’s six-yard box. There was Cavani, continuing his run, meeting Suarez’s centre. They had effectively formed a vast triangle of 60-yard passes.

Cavani’s header was not quite so perfect, but he met the Suarez cross powerfully enough, with his face rather than his forehead and pumped it past Rui Patricio.

It was a special goal, and an endorsement of the understanding Suarez and Cavani have established in more than 70 senior internationals playing up front with one another. At times, that has involved compromise, like playing in positions that are not their favourite roles, staying out on the wing while the other one took the job of spearhead.

Suarez and Cavani, who are both from the city of Salto, and both 31 years old, can be a devastating double act. This was the first time they have directly combined for a goal in this World Cup, but they had already done so for five of Uruguay’s goals in qualifying.

Uruguay’s one concern is that it might be the last time they combine in Russia. Cavani hobbled off the pitch, not long after he had answered Pepe’s second-half, headed equaliser with a wonderful, curling strike from outside the Portugal penalty area after the impressive Rodrigo Bentancur had squared the ball to him.

Oscar Washington Tabarez, the Uruguay manager, is worried. The problem is muscular, perhaps a pulled hamstring. “We will have to see how he responds to tests and treatment,” Tabarez said. “We have only five days before the next game.”

That next game will be against a France who have come to life in the last-16 round. It’s a quarter-final that pitches Cavani, if fit, up against his Paris Saint-Germain teammate Kylian Mbappe. They are both hitting form.

It means Suarez taking on his Barcelona colleague, the defender Samuel Umtiti. It is a tie to relish. Uruguay will be tough to break down. Pepe’s goal against them, a header, was the first Tabarez’s side have conceded in seven games.