Les Blues rode on an Umtiti header to beat Belgium and reach third World Cup final in six editions
France overcame brave Belgium in the first semi-final to book a place in Sunday’s showpiece clash in Moscow as Samuel Umtiti’s header early on in the second-half proved decisive. The Red Devils came close on numerous occasions, but it wasn’t meant to be their day as the tournament’s most prolific side drew a blank.
Les Blues, on the other hand, are living up to their favorites tag and are now just one win away from clinching a second World Cup crown as either of England or Croatia stand in the way.
The major lessons learnt from the high-profile clash:
#5 Mbappe is making us poorer for superlatives
Every time we think Kylian Mbappe has played to his precocious talent, the PSG starlet finds a new way to make our collective heads spin. He didn’t get on the scoresheet nor mustered a shot on target, but he was still the best player on the field with his electrifying pace that left the Belgians tied in a knot.
Mbappe almost bagged an early lead when he was sent through on goal and threw the Belgian defense in a tizzy with his magical run. Courtois was able to collect the ball before he could make a contact, but that was a sign of things to come. His best bit of the game though, was the cheeky backheel pass to Giroud after expertly controlling a pass from Griezmann from the edge of the area to create a chance.
Without getting a goal, Mbappe emerged to be the biggest threat from the French, and that’s an enduring testament to his inhumane potential. And he’s not done yet. With the finals up next, expect Mbappe to have a big role if Les Blues do emerge victorious.
#4 Belgium’s Dembele gamble fails big time
Manager Roberto Martinez made another change to his lineup for the semi-final as he slotted in Moussa Dembele in the 3-5-2 formation and benched Dries Mertens. The move raised eyebrows prior to the kickoff and the faults with the same became all the more clearer when the Tottenham star was in tactical no man’s land.
He was virtually non-existent in the attack, offering little to no threat whatsoever. But whenever Dembele did garner attention, it was for all the wrong reasons. He engaged in cynical tackles in what was a brash attempt at breaking France’s play and would surely consider himself lucky not have been sent off. He was eventually subbed off after France took the lead, and in came Mertens. Suddenly, Belgium were more threatening. The Napoli star was more creative and dangerous down the right than Dembele ever was as he was a relentless source of excellent crosses into the box.
Belgium were just unlucky not to have connected with any of those which could’ve otherwise scripted a different story.
#3 Lloris and Courtois make things interesting in goal with brilliant saves
Most of the pre-match buildup focused on the embarrassment of attacking riches in both camps and how this game can be a potential goalfest. But far from a goalfest, it was more of a tale of missed chances, but the two goalkeepers on the night lit up the contest with a string of amazing saves.
Lloris was a busy man initially as Belgium made the brighter start and made 2 incredible saves inside 20 minutes, the second of which was piece of goalkeeping masterclass when he dived to his right to deny his Spurs teammate Toby Alderweireld. Courtois was soon called into question too, as Pavard came close from the right flank, but he Chelsea man’s outstretched leg parried the effort for a corner.
The towering Belgian custodian couldn’t have done anything to stop that Samuel Umtiti header, but did end up making 4 saves on the night to prevent France from extending the lead. Lloris deservedly got his cleansheet, as he made 3 saves of his own and kept the Belgium attackers at arm’s length.
#2 Giroud’s frustration sees no end
Olivier Giroud seems to have hit a glass ceiling in this World Cup. The former Arsenal hitman has started all 6 of France’s games thus far, but forget scoring, he’s yet to get even a shot on target!
He was at the receiving end of a few good chances in the first half, but lost his footing while trying at first one of those, as his effort lacked flair and sailed harmlessly wide off the post. He then came close again minutes later, but his header with his back to the post once again failed to test Courtois. Mbappe then put him clear with a magical backpass, but his effort was nipped in the bud by Dembele.
Giroud tried 6 shots in this game alone, but 4 of them flew off target. He’s now gone seven hours of football without scoring, the longest drought by any player in this World Cup as his frustrations in front of goal sees no respite in the horizon.
#1 France are clear favorites ahead of the finals
France are a talented bunch of players and also pre-tournament underdogs. But with all the big names disappointing and going down early, the path is now clear for Les Blues to clinch a second World Cup trophy. They haven’t been the most impressive side by any means, but France have come up trumps when it really mattered, taking their chances by the scruff and holding a great defensive line.
And now after beating two Latin American giants in Uruguay and Argentina en route to the finals, the confidence in the camp is plausibly high. The defensive pairing of Varane and Umtiti is turning into a revelation, while Mbappe is stepping up to the plate despite the inexperience. Paul Pogba has buried the ghosts of 2017/18 season to truly come of age in the World Cup while Griezmann, as always, has been an imposing presence upfront. But what truly sets this team apart is the incredible team spirit. Every player has a discerning role in the team and without sidestepping from it much, have gone about it quietly.
Regardless of whom they face in the finals, whether England or Croatia, France are now starting to believe they can actually go all the way, and rightfully so. They are the favorites now, and they are relishing the tag.