Belgium 0 – 1 France
France edged past their neighbors in Belgium as they advanced to their third World Cup final with a chance to win it all in Moscow. Umtiti scored the sole goal that proved to be the winner as he towered above the Belgium defense to head the ball in off an Antoine Griezmann corner. Deschamps’ side appeared to be on the back foot for large stretches of the game despite having 19 shots, 10 more than Belgium. Les Bleus emerged victorious and will face a depleted Croatia team.
Belgium impressed the world as they made it past the quarter-finals after a clinical show against Brazil. They saw much of the ball though they were unable to find a goal; Witsel’s long range drive was pushed away by Lloris who also brilliantly saved Toby Alderweireld’s weak footed turn and shot. Deschamps was mobbed by his staff, and rightly so as the final whistle sounded off France’s night.
France – results and pragmatism over flair and exciting football
Deschamps donned the captain’s armband 20 years ago in Paris as France cruised to a 3-0 victory against Brazil to win their maiden World Cup. He knows looks to join Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer of Brazil and Germany respectively, as the only individuals to win the World Cup as both player and head coach. The current style of play employed by Deschamps is a reflection of the player he once was. He adopted a conventional and old-fashioned play for his France side that mimics the holding midfielder in his glory days.
France kept their defensive shape despite Belgium having 65% possession for the game. They played deep and looked to break down their opponents on the counter – with forward passes aiming for the runs of Kylian Mbappe. His movement and pace was a threat that kept Belgian’s back three on their toes for the 90 minutes. The teenage sensation announced himself on football’s biggest stage in the knockout stages, scoring a brace against Argentina in the last 16. He played an exquisite no-look flick in the direction of Giroud though the towering Frenchmen saw his shot blocked. He is yet to score in Russia despite the ample number of shots created for him – with 13. Any other manager would immediately bench a striker this barren though Giroud is likely to start in the final. He has the backing of his manager with Deschamps often taking fire for not fielding attacking talents like Thomas Lemar or Ousmane Dembele. His tactics taken heat by time and time again though he has answered his critics by making to a second straight international tournament final. Once France took the lead in the 50th minute, they held out Belgium and sent them packing.
Belgium’s Golden Generation, did they under deliver?
They came in as dark horse pre-tournament favorites and after beating Brazil, they were arguably the team to beat. Hazard, de Bruyne, Lukaku, Kompany, Alderweireld, and Courtois as are all household names in the Premiership and barely begin to scratch the surface in terms of the talent that Belgium has to offer. Only one of the starters are not Premier League based. This side was surrounded by optimism as they could be the generation to finally deliver silverware for their nation. But once again, they suffered heartbreak in a major tournament.
Les Diables Rouge lost in the last eight of the previous World Cup and European Championship. This was their second appearance in a World Cup semi-final – their maiden appearance being in 1986 where they were subdued by Maradona and his Argentina side. They lead all teams on a 24 unbeaten run dating back to September 2016. Their run ended against France and resulted in Roberto Martinez’s first loss as an international manager.
Lukaku has been excellent in Russia, leading Belgium in goals scored and with his ability to draw out defenders to open up defenses. He was kept in check by France’s center back pairing of Umtiti and Varane. The dynamic Barcelona-Real Madrid duo kept Lukaku to 22 touches for the 90 minutes, the least out of all players. De Bruyne looked like a shadow of himself and was unable to have any control of the game. Hazard was the only player of the three to try and be a goal scoring threat though even he was drifted to the fringes of the game.
Belgium’s only consolation will be a repeat of group G’s decider against England. De JA Vu.
Man of the Match: Raphael Varane