France advanced to the World Cup final on Sunday with a composed, efficient performance to defeat a Belgian side whose bright start descended into ultimate disappointment. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action.
French Central Midfield Dominance
This was the key component of this fixture. France were dominant in this area of the park. Kante, Matuidi and Pogba were on point throughout. They negated the threat of Kevin De Bruyne so much so that the Manchester City midfielder was forced to receive ball deep in his own half. Eden Hazard had a superb opening cameo but was then snuffed out by the French central midfield. Kante and Matuidi in particular provided energy and work rate to proceedings, something that Fellaini, Dembele and Witsel struggled to match. Mission accomplished from the French central midfield and Deschamps should be given enormous credit for the manner in which his central midfield setup and executed the game plan.
Belgium rue lost opportunity
I will cut to the chase. This was the opportunity for Belgium to win a World Cup. Their golden generation will not have a better opportunity to win the coveted trophy with the likes of Spain, Germany, Portugal, Argentina and Brazil dispatched from the competition. Belgium looked like they played their World Cup final against Brazil; the effort to win this contest was evident in the central midfield performance tonight. Perhaps, a good opening thirty minutes of the contest where Belgian dominance should have yielded a goal. Lloris save on Alderweireld was a key turning point; thereafter France imposed their will on proceedings. When you consider the Hazard effort in this opening period, luck was not on Belgium’s side. A heartbreaking loss for Belgium. The talent is there but there are questions on the squad given some underwhelming performances tonight. Lukaku only touched the ball twenty-two times. I rest my case!
The game winning goal came out of nothing. While Belgium and Chadli struggled to find their range on the set piece, France executed their corner kick set piece to perfection. The run from Umtiti to first stave off Alderweireld and then beat Fellaini to the flick on was sensational. The header gave Courtois absolutely no chance. Belgium on the other hand struggled for attacking cohesion. Martinez throwing caution to the wind soon after the goal, pumping crosses into the French box where Varane and Umtiti were imperious. No imagination from Belgium to run with the ball and their final ball was not good tonight. France scored and perhaps on another day could have scored a couple more goals at the end when Belgium went all out attack.
France favorites for final?
I think France will be installed as warm favorites ahead of Sunday’s final. Their performances to date in the knockout rounds have shown different attributes of the side. France exposed a poor Argentinian defense and showcased Mbappe to the fore. The quarter final victory over Uruguay was the standout for me personally. They nullified the Uruguayan middle third and with their expansive full backs of Pavard and Hernandez providing support in attacking positions, Uruguay were under pressure from the early exchanges. Their central midfield ability to link play while providing the protective shield to their back four is incredible. Offense wins games. Defense wins championships. This side have a point to prove after their 2016 Euro Championship final loss. France will relish playing either England or Croatia who conceivably may go deep into extra time again. France are primed for World Cup glory unless England or Croatia can throw something completely off the charts to cause unease in the Le Bleu camp. The water carrier has done well, don’t you think?