The opening quarter finals of the FIFA World Cup 2018 tournament saw contrasting fixtures. France were rarely threatened in their victory over a Cavani less Uruguay side. Belgium produced a stunning opening half performance to knock out Brazil from the tournament in one of the games of the tournament. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action.
France march to the semi-finals with ease
The reaction of Gimenez in the second half was enough. The Atletico Madrid defender struck a figure of desolation and disappointment on the football pitch. He firmly believed that Uruguay could pull off another performance out of the bag to shock France but in truth it never looked like happening.
There are still questions about this French outfit. The central midfield cohesion with Pogba in the side looks a distinct work in progress. Pogba has all the attributes; size, physicality, endurance and football ability seen in precious few cameos today. His strength is running with pace at the opposition; it remains to be see how Deschamps can address how to get Pogba centrally involved more frequently in France’s game plan heading into the semi-final.
France won this fixture in a canter as soon as Varane took advantage of a massive Uruguay defensive lapse from the free kick just before half-time. The delivery was on point but the split second where Varane lost his marker was fatal for the South American side. The header was emphatic and Uruguay were asked to come out and get back in the contest, something they were incapable of doing.
Even with Edison Cavani, Uruguay would have struggled today. The central midfield area for Uruguay lacked the quality on the ball to unleash Stuani and Suarez who failed to register a goal attempt today. It was the hopeful ball down the flanks looking for Stuani to win a 50/50 duel or Suarez looking to benefit from a sloppy French defensive pass. Suarez struck a forlorn figure come the final whistle.
The second French goal was a personal disaster for Uruguayan keeper Muslera. The vastly experienced goalkeeper will think long and hard in the coming weeks on how Griezmann’s speculative long range effort evaded him. The ball agonizingly going in was a horrible image for any neutral football fan to see. It spelled the end of the contest. Cue Uruguayan outfield players to collapse in despair at the concession. The white flag was as good as raised.
France controlled and game managed the fixture from then on. Uruguay game to the end but France were defensively on point. Kante protecting his central defenders superbly well throughout; no easy ball for Suarez to run and create goal scoring opportunities. They are the team to beat in this tournament; they have cruised through the tournament so far. Will a team be able to put under the cosh and see how the side react? All to be revealed next week then.
Belgium superb in eliminating Brazil
The game of the tournament so far for me. Forget the opening round games. This was a high quality contest between two footballing sides who gave as good as they got during the ninety minutes. The game was ultimately decided by management of the two sides on show. The ability of one team (Belgium) to adapt and execute an efficient game plan with the correct personnel on the pitch. The other team (Brazil) floundered due to indiscipline and player personnel issues.
Belgium won this encounter in an excellent opening half. Their ability to defend in depth with Fellaini and Witzel outstanding providing a protective blanket for the Belgium’s back three was instrumental to this triumph. They consistently broke up game and their quick distribution to Hazard, De Bruyne and Lukaku paid ultimate dividends.
Both sides had nervy moments on the set piece early doors. Belgium perhaps a touch fortunate not to concede an early goal but they recovered and took full advantage of chaotic Brazilian defending to lead this contest on thirteen minutes. Kompany winning the initial flick on from a corner. Fernandinho unable to get his head out of the way and the ball was in the net.
Brazil management should have instructed their side to keep calm and composed but the players started to over commit to every Brazilian attack. Brazil were outdone by one of the goals of the tournament. A Brazilian corner was cleared and Lukaku rampaging run had Brazil defensively in all sorts of trouble. His pass to De Bruyne was excellent and the strike was emphatic. Marcelo not able to get close due to the player overlap on his flank. 2-0.
Belgium had numerous heroes tonight. The front three were such a live threat throughout and exposed Brazil’s weak points in defense. The defensive players in the side were sublime. Meunier was a hero for Belgium having to contend with Marcelo, Neymar throughout. Vertonghen, Kompany and Alderweireld were composed, defended with gusto and organized with leadership. Chadli and Lukaku sacrificed their attacking play to keep Belgium compact and hard to break down.
Brazil failed to give up and their attacking threats continued to create chances. Augusto’s goal was a superb effort; deft chip over the top from Coutinho to get Brazil back into the contest. Augusto had another glorious chance soon after with a chance to score from just inside the penalty area; shanked the effort.
Neymar was looking to create but was looking to go down at the every opportunity. For such a magnificent player, he really turns me off with his antics. I am glad that we no longer need to see his diving antics in this tournament. The player failed to deliver tonight and Brazilian media will not spare him. The lack of leadership defensively and central midfield as well was galling; Silva and Miranda struggled. Fernandinho’s’ confidence went as soon as he scored the own goal.
How Douglas Costa and Renato Augusto were not on from the start is another galling point for Tite to attempt to bat away? Jesus was mediocre at best. His link up play was poor and Firminho was an instant upgrade. Costa and Augusto were involved in all that was good with Brazil in that second half. Tite’s blind loyalty to certain players ultimately cost his side tonight.
Kudos to Roberto Martinez; a man who was greeted with indifference when appointed to this national team job. His passing football philosophy is known but his ability to get his team to adapt and execute a swift counter attacking formation tonight really shone through. Martinez will be a man in demand; his humble post match interview spoke volumes. Martinez and management staff won this contest. Martinez will be a man in serious demand after this tourney.