World Cup 2018

France 1-0 Belgium: 5 Things we learned

 • by Andrew Gibney
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Twenty years ago, the names of Zinedine Zidane, Emmanuel Petit and Marcel Desailly became French heroes. After their 1-0 win over Belgium on Tuesday night, in four days time, a new breed of stars get to make history.

A 51st-minute header from Samuel Umtiti gave Didier Deschamps’ side a 1-0 lead, rising higher and ahead of Marouane Fellaini to guide the ball beyond Thibaut Courtois.

After the only goal of the game, it was the French defence which took over and superb performances across the pitch helped Les Bleus reach their first World Cup final since 1998.

Here are five things we learned from France’s 1-0 victory over Belgium.

One No.10 shone brighter

Eden Hazard against Kylian Mbappé: there was only one winner. Mbappé dazzling the world to help France reach the final of the World Cup.

Lightning quick speed, superb close control and a confidence rarely seen in someone so young. If Argentina was his coming out party, the semi-final was the boy transforming into a man.

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When other players around him would pick the wrong pass, or hold on to the ball too long, the teenager would charge up the field, keep his head and choose the right option more often than not.

He finished the game without a shot on goal, but he completed 22 of his 28 pass attempts according to StatsZone, created six chances and was successful with seven out of his 15 take ons.

The Paris Saint-Germain youngster provided France with the perfect outlet pass and he was stunningly intelligent, with maturity above his years.

Not Martinez night

Belgium's forward Eden Hazard (C) reacts after a tackle during the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between France and Belgium

When the Belgium team was announced, there were questions around the official line-up, suggesting Mousa Dembélé would play right wing-back and it start 3-4-3.

Many suggested it would instead be 4-3-3 and the truth was somewhere in the middle.

Without the ball, Belgium set up playing 4-2-3-1, with Kevin De Bruyne on the right, Fellaini as the No.10 and Nacer Chadli at right-back.

Then when they had possession, it changed to 3-4-3, with Chadli allowed to push up as an attacker, Hazard going left and De Bruyne at the tip of the midfield.

As they lost, it’s hard to say Belgium got it right, but you can’t put the blame on their Spanish coach.

Hugo Lloris made an excellent save from Toby Alderweireld’s shot in the first half and Fellaini had a header go wide.

Belgium bossed possession and made nearly double the amount of passes, but the big chances didn’t fall their way and France took theirs. Sometimes games are decided on tiny moments, not tactical decisions.

Underrated Matuidi

The Juventus midfielder has gone his whole career being an underrated part of his team.

At Paris Saint-Germain, Blaise Matuidi was the hardest working player on the pitch, but the spotlight was shone elsewhere.

Even as France banished ghosts of 2010 in Brazil and fell at the final hurdle to Portugal in Euro 2016, all the midfield talking points were about Paul Pogba, or why N’Golo Kante didn’t play every game.

There were even calls before the tournament to ask why he was even part of Deschamps’ 23-man squad.

The 31-year-old has become the Moussa Sissoko of the current team. His inclusion questioned, but Deschamps’ loyalty remains and most importantly, when called upon, he never lets his country down.

Before he was taken off on the 86th-minute, he won all six of his tackles, made three interceptions and won four fouls.

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone and France certainly missed him against Uruguay. They will hope he’s 100 per cent going into the final.

France’s iconic defensive duo

It was Raphaël Varane’s header against Uruguay which sent France through to the semi, on Tuesday it was his partner, Umtiti, who got in the right position to nod his team in front.

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Crucial at the business end of the field, but it was in defence they were both imperious against Belgium.

The Real Madrid man showed off his speed early in the first half, causing you to give a second look as he burned past Hazard to recover a ball at the back.

Deep into the second half, he then charged in to make a stunning, tough, but fair challenge on the Belgium No.10.

With six clearances, four with his head, and winning two out of his three aerial duels, he was a leader at the back. Varane didn’t commit a single foul and was always in the right place at the right time.

Not to be outdone, Umtiti finished with seven clearances and also didn’t commit a foul. Varane was usually there first, but if he was beaten, the Barcelona man wasn’t missing. A sensational display.

Waiting for Griezmann

Going into Sunday’s final, against either Croatia or England, France will start favourites.

They have dispatched Argentina, then one of the toughest teams in the world in Uruguay, then the tournaments top scorers, Belgium. Deserved favourites.

However, one underlying story is the lack of memorable performances from Antoine Griezmann.

The Atletico Madrid forward scored in the quarter-final due to Fernando Muslera’s error, then penalties against Australian and Argentina take his tally to three in the tournament.

What should be worrying for their eventual opponents in the final, he’s still not delivered anything close to what he did two years ago at the European Championships.

Is he saving himself for Sunday’s showcase? Perhaps. It won’t matter if they lift the trophy, but maybe they’ll need him to find his best form to go one stage further than they did in 2016.

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