World Cup review: France inflict a rare defeat on Belgium to make the final
Another round-up from the 2018 World Cup in Russia, this time focusing on the Semi-Final between France and Belgium, and it was a stroll in the park for the boys in blue.
I walk up to the counter. Yannick’s face emerges from a shrubbery of cakes, scones and candies.
“Ah, Lee, the usual?”
I hand the French Barista my Rewards Card.
“I think you’ll find I’m due a free drink.”
Yannick takes my card and scans the black box thing on his computer.
“You have six credits.”
“I have six free drinks?”
“No, you have six credits. You get a free drink after ten credits.”
“And it’s one credit per drink?”
Yannick smiles at me, presses a few buttons, and says, “Ah, Lee, the usual?”
“I think you’ll find I’m due a free drink.”
“Ah yes, you are. A large decaffeinated Coconut-Latte it is then.”
I didn’t need to use my Jedi mind trick. And I have that ability. One wave of my hand. Nope, all you need is a Frenchman in the midst of World Cup Final jubilations, and you’ve hit the free drink g-spot.
A Boring Game
He looks half-cut.
“I imagine for everyone who’s not French; it was a very boring game.”
“Not for me.”
It was boring.
In 1986, the only other time Belgium had ever reached the World Cup Semi-Final, the brilliance of one man defeated them. This time, it was the solidarity of a team.
Boring, but very effective.
The French did a number on Belgium, inflicting their first defeat in over two-years, on a night the Premier League All-Stars failed to sparkle in St Petersburg.
In doing so, Les Blues have reached their third final, making them the most consistent World Cup Finals team since 1998, when they beat Brazil 3-0 to take the title.
Didier Deschamps captained that side, and on Sunday he may join Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer and Brazil’s Mario Zagallo as one of only three men to win the most coveted title in football as both a player and a manager.
Belgium began the brightest. The Red Devils controlled the ball in the first 15-minutes, and they looked the better team by some distance. Then Kevin De Bruyne coasted down the right; put Eden Hazard through on goal, only for the Chelsea star to shoot wide.
Four minutes later, and Hazard sneaked a shot in from the right, and Raphael Varane – who was excellent all evening – headed the ball above the bar, under pressure from Marouane Fellaini.
20-minutes gone, and Belgium was bossing this game.
A corner, swung in beautifully, and Toby Alderweireld spun like a star forward in the box, released a wicked shot, and Hugo Lloris dived to his right to make a fantastic save.
By this time the French had offered very little in attack, with Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, and Olivier Giroud playing as an additional flank of midfielders.
Then Giroud had a few chances.
The Chelsea forward headed a Benjamin Pavard cross wide and then got on the end of a cross from Mbappe, but that effort also shot past its mark.
The French began getting more of the ball.
Mbappe put Pavard through on goal with a delightful pass, but the full-back couldn’t lift it over the onrushing frame of Thibaut Courtois.
At the other end, a Belgian player swung a vicious cross into the box, Samuel Umtiti missed it, but his heavy presence was enough to put Romelu Lukaku off balance, and the ball hit the big striker and went out for a goal kick a few yards from goal.
Then, five minutes into the second half, as I was running around the house, trying to kill a family of flies that had invaded my home, France scored.
Griezmann swung in a corner, Umtiti reached the near post before Fellaini, and his header came off the mop of the Man Utd man to breeze past Courtois in the Belgian goal.
It was Griezmann’s 20th involvement in a goal in France’s last 20 internationals (12 goals, eight assists).
44% of all goals in the 2018 World Cup have come from set pieces.
A minute on and it was so nearly two.
Mbappe pirouetted with the ball like a ballet dancer on the edge of the box, his intricate back heel found Giroud, but Mousa Dembele dived in the Chelsea man’s way to deflect the ball out for a corner. It was Giroud’s 12 shot of the Finals, and not one of them has hit the target.
Change your boots, son.
It was all France.
And then Deschamps’ side began dropping deeper and deeper. Dries Mertens put a cross into the box, and Fellaini headed wide.
More Belgian ball, but no end product.
De Bruyne kept giving the ball away, and Hazard weighed down by that captain’s armband, kept picking up the ball in the wrong areas of the pitch, making the four-goal Lukaku look like a Troll at dawn.
Ten minutes to go and Lloris saved an impressive long-range shot fromAxel Witsel. Two minutes to go and De Bruyne finds his range, only for Lukaku to act all shy-tortoise like when the Man Utd star desperately needed to grow a neck.
Five minutes into injury time, and the French should have sealed it. Paul Pogba first setting up Griezmann, and then Corentin Tolisso, only for Courtois to stand in the way on both occasions.
In the end, the stats will show that Belgium had 64% of the ball, but most of the time they were treading water.
France plays the winner of the England v Croatia Semi-Final in the World Cup Final, Sunday 15 July at 4 pm (BST).
I will be heading to my coffee shop on Monday, to see if I can get another free drink.
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