NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (Reuters) - Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said that France were worthy winners of Friday’s World Cup quarter-final but that his small country had once again shown why it deserves its place alongside the best nations in global soccer.
In charge of Uruguay for the last three World Cups, Tabarez has taken his teams beyond the group stage each time - to the semi-final in 2010, the last 16 in 2014, and the quarters in Russia.
They were comfortably beaten 2-0, however, at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium by a smooth-looking French team.
“We couldn’t control their strengths,” Tabarez said, looking sad but calm after his players left the field in tears to an ovation from their traveling fans.
“Today we played against opponents who were better and stronger than us. We have to admit it and congratulate them.”
The Europeans won with a Raphael Varane header in the first half and a fumble by goalkeeper Fernando Muslera in the second that let a soft Antoine Griezmann shot go in.
“I told all my players after the match that they can be very proud, they can keep their heads high,” said Tabarez, who saw his team nearly equalize at the end of the first half but otherwise create little.
“I’m not going to tell you what I said with my goalkeeper. He has been a very important pillar for us. I am not going to wash my hands putting any responsibility on the players.”
With a population of just 3.3 million, twice World Cup winners Uruguay have long punched above their weight in global soccer.
But beating France always looked a tall order, and it became much harder when striker Edinson Cavani was ruled out with injury. His replacement Cristhian Stuani made no impact in attack, and fellow forward Luis Suarez missed his usual partner.
But Tabarez said Uruguay had done superbly to get so far, given its disadvantages in terms of population and infrastructure.
“Today our dream comes to an end ... (but) I think the world has seen what we achieved, what we want to do, and what sort of country we are. We are a small country you know. It is harder for us than for France or Germany or England.
“There are many countries that belong to the football elite that left this tournament before we did ... Germany left during the group phase, Argentina left earlier too.”
Until Saturday, Uruguay had the joint meanest defense at the World Cup, letting in just one goal in four straight wins.
“The first goal (by France) was the first time in a very long time that a team has been able to score like that against us,” Tabarez said, referring to Varane’s glancing header.
“Of course when you lose you feel it, for a country like Uruguay, with our history. Of course it’s painful, but let’s not be too dramatic. We dream on. Things never end. A World Cup is played every four years.”
Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Hugh Lawson