France – Belgium (1:0): France are the first finalists!

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France have qualified in a World Cup final for the third time in the last 20 years! As we mentioned in our overview of the French squad before the tournament, this is really their best generation since Zidane’s and Henry’s France.

As it was expected, this was not game with lots of goals. Yes, these teams have played several games like that in the tournament so far, but it was not the same this time. This was a semifinal!

France started with their best 11. All of the regulars kept their starting position and will surely play again in the final. Belgium on the other side, had to make changes. Roberto Martinez had to find a replacement for Meunier, because he was suspended.

That proved to be a task job. As we wrote in an article earlier in the tournament, Carrasco couldn’t do his job well on the wing-back position. That’s why he was replaced by Chadli against Brazil and Belgium did great in that game. Now, Roberto Martinez had the option of Carrasco on the left wing-back position or someone else elsewhere.

He decided to give Dembele a chance. He should have been the player to help Verthonghen on the left and help in the build up. Chadli was the player to play on the right wing-back position. Even though Dembele was still better than Carrasco was in the previous games, he couldn’t successfully replace Meunier. Hazard had to take the ball from the back and by the time he reached Belgium’s defense, he couldn’t create more danger.

Again, we saw a defensive masterclass from France. Romelu Lukaku was closed down by the amazing Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti. However, Pavard and L. Hernandez had great games too.

In front of them, Kante and Matuidi did all the dirty work against De Bruyne and Hazard. It is really great to see such an organized national team.

Griezmann, Pogba and Mbappe were all great in the attacking transitions. However, the only dangerous situtation in the first half came from a defender. Mbappe provided the through pass, but Pavard couldn’t score. Thibaut Courtois saved it.

Hazard was definitely Belgium’s best player, but he couldn’t do much against the French defenders. They were all around him all the time.

After the break, the only goal in the game came. Griezmann sent a great ball from a corner and Umtiti scored the winning header. Fellaini was maybe the player who could have done more to stop the French defender.

That should have been a good thing for the game, because everyone expected that Belgium would attack more. They did attack more after that, but they were toothless in the attack. Varane and Umtiti won countless headers and cleared the ball constantly. Cannavaro would have been proud of a performance like that.

Umtiti was even selected as the man of the match. A great reward for the Barcelona defender. These are his stats from yesterday’s game: 1 goal; 7 clearances; 1 key pass and 82.9% pass accuracy.

Mbappe gave a jaw dropping key pass to Giroud, but the Chelsea attacker didn’t score. Giroud was probably the only French player who had a bad game.

The only Belgium chance in the second half came from a Mertens cross, but Fellaini’s shot didn’t go in. After that, it was all about Hazard trying and France defending successfully. Mertens, Carrasco and Batshuayi all got a chance in the second half, but couldn’t do much against France.

At the end, France were even closer to the goal than Belgium. Tolisso and Mbappe weren’t that clinical, otherwise the game would have ended 2:0 for France.

France:

Hugo Lloris; Pavard, Varane, Umtiti, Hernandez; Kante, Matuidi (Tolisso), Pogba; Griezmann, Mbappe, Giroud (N’Zonzi).

Belgium:

Courtois; Alderweireld, Kompany, Verthonghen; Chadli, Witsel, Dembele, Fellaini; Hazard, De Bruyne, Lukaku.

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