Match No. 61 – France (1) vs Belgium (0)
Stadium : Zenit Arena, St. Petersburg
A mouth watering clash was in store here at Zenit as two of the strongest contenders for the FIFA World Cup were about to go head to head to book a place in the final. With some fine talent on show, both the teams are studded with some of the household names from Premier League and Europe. There was no clear favourite in this tie as both teams had a point to prove. Belgium unbeaten in their last 24 matches before this tie enjoyed an overall head to head record against Les Bleus. While France, having risen from the ashes after going down to Portugal in the Euro finals on this same day two years back, want to go one step further this time.
The match started on a high tempo as Belgium seemed to be all over the French defenders, causing problems. They enjoyed a lengthy spell of possession, before France struck back and dominated the rest of the first half. Last time in the quarter finals, it was the Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane who headed France ahead. This was the turn of his El Clasico rival-partner Umtiti to do the honours. He beat Courtois from a Griezmann corner early in the second half and produced a celebration to match. From there, France sat back and comfortably defended their one goal lead.
They punished Belgium on the counters and could’ve easily scored more. As for Belgium, they failed to live up to their standards and struggled slightly with their 4-3-3, forced due to Meunier’s absence due to suspension. They did however had a handful of good chances and would be livid with themselves for not converting a single one. Roberto Martinez’s men did go one step further than last time out but his substitutions could be questioned as they were late and failed to produce the effect his team needed when they were trailing. To know the game in details, keep reading below.
7’ – Belgium have pushed France on the backfoot early on and are producing some slick passing and movement but are yet to test Lloris.
15’ – MISS! France lose possesion sloppily in midfield as de Bruyne passes the ball to Hazard who tries to drill in a low shot but it goes wide.
21’ – SAVE! The resulting corner from Chadli falls straight to Alderweireld who makes a quick turn before taking a shot on the left of goal but is met by an outstanding save by his Tottenham teammate Lloris.
31’ – MISS! Griezmann plays the free kick short to Pavard who delivers into the box and is met by Giroud who was facing the opposite way to the goal and his header is well hit but narrowly misses the target.
39’ – SAVE! France play some fantastic football as Mbappe releases Pavard on the right of goal who shoots right at goal but is kept out just, by Courtois’ trailing leg. It was a mighty chance!
45’ – What a chance! Kevin de Bruyne’s dangerous cross is failed to be cleared by Umtiti horribly and bounces off surprisingly from Lukaku who can’t believe his luck.
47’ – MISS! Witsel delivers a long ball into the French penalty area and is headed across by Lukaku but his effort goes over the bar.
51’ – GOAL! France draw first blood! Griezmann delivers the corner towards the near post where Umtiti rising above Fellaini heads it into the back of the net. The ball takes a touch off Fellaini before beating Courtois at his near post. But that will count as Umtiti’s goal.
60’ – Belgium make their first change which is an obvious one as Mertens replaces Dembele.
81’ – SAVE! A loose ball following Varane tackling Hazard falls straight to Witsel whose shot is kept out brilliantly by Lloris.
87’ – Kante brings down club teammate Hazard and is booked for the offence.
91’ – The final throw of dice from Belgium as Chadli is replaced by Batshuayi.
92’ – Mbappe is shown a yellow card after he dribbles the ball away from a Belgium throw-in to waste time.
93’ – SAVE! Griezmann is through on goal from a French counter attack and takes a shot with his weaker foot but is stopped comfortably by Courtois.
96’ – SAVE! It’s Courtois who has to make the saves, this time from Tolisso whose finishing is poor. Belgium are running out of time.
FT: France 1-0 Belgium
Blaise Matuidi (***): He’s one of the most indispensable players in the France side. The Juventus midfielder has adapted to a much different role than he initially enjoyed for France, and how well he’s adapted. He kept the pressure on Belgium with his involvement in fierce counter attacking and astute defending. He won a massive 12 (86%) duels, 2 aerials, 6 tackles, 3 interceptions and 4 fouls for his team. He kept carrying despite receiving a harsh blow on his shoulder, a performance his coach would surely feel proud of.
Eden Hazard (***): The Chelsea man who is widely regarded as one of the Golden Ball contenders in this World Cup was once again the better player for Belgium on the pitch, but his efforts fell short as they kept chasing an equaliser. He completed 96% of his passes, 10 dribbles (91%), besides winning an impressive 16 duels, 4 fouls and 2 tackles.
*** Exceeded expectation ** Met expectation * Didn’t meet expectation
Samuel Umtiti – The Barça defender coming through the ranks of Lyon, has been a regular in the French team since Euro 2016, partnering rival Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane. He headed France into the lead from a corner as he rose above the likes of Fellaini and produced a thumping header. Aside from a moment of lapse of concentration early on that almost gifted Lukaku a goal, he was focused and kept everything out that the Belgians threw with their deliveries as he made 7 clearances.
Viewer Rating: **
Certainly not the greatest of world cup semis we’ve seen. However, we could expect a tooth and nail encounter between two of the most individually talented sides in the tournament. The first half was raw skills and movement from both sides but the second half was dragged onto the finish without much to offer.
France showed great desire upfront throughout the game until they found their opener through Umtiti and were happy to sit back from there on. They kept Belgium out who played the ‘cross and hope’ football and couldn’t convert some glorious chances they had alongside their 64% ball possesion. France were lethal on the counters through the link up between Mbappe, Giroud, Matuidi and the outstanding vision and passing of Griezmann who kept orchestrating those attacks. As for Belgium, it wasn’t a performance that justified their standards as they lose out on a final spot yet again.
France have reached their third world cup final – all of which have come in the last 20 years. They face the winners of the second semi finals between England and Croatia in 5 days’ time at the Luzhniki Stadium in what is the grandest of games in football. Belgium don’t go home just yet and will face the losers of the second semi final here after 4 days