Daily Maverick

In Pictures: France give Red Devils the blues in World Cup semi-final

Samuel Umtiti of France celebrates scoring the opening goal during the FIFA World Cup 2018 semi final soccer match between France and Belgium in St.Petersburg, Russia, 10 July 2018. EPA-EFE/GEORGI LICOVSKI

Belgium's chances came to nought as a well-organised France side protected their 1-0 lead to seal their place in the World Cup final.

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You’d have been a fool to try to predict the scoreline for the semi-final between France and Belgium. But, if you dared, nobody would have scoffed if you had opted for a goal glut, or no goals at all.

Such is the nature of these two teams and the unpredictability of this stage of the competition.

Neither side had dared tinker too much with their winning formula. Blaise Matuidi returned from suspension for France in place of Corentin Tolisso, while Roberto Martinez’s hand was forced by the suspension of Thomas Meunier as Mousa Dembele stepped in.

Raphael Varane of France (L) and Romelu Lukaku of Belgium in action during the FIFA World Cup 2018 semi final soccer match between France and Belgium in St.Petersburg, Russia, 10 July 2018. EPA-EFE/ZURAB KURTSIKIDZE
Moussa Dembele (L) of Belgium in action against Benjamin Pavard (R) of France during the FIFA World Cup 2018 semifinal soccer match between France and Belgium in St.Petersburg, Russia, 10 July 2018. EPA-EFE/ETIENNE LAURENT
Belgium’s goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois (L) in action against France’s Olivier Giroud (R) during the FIFA World Cup 2018 semifinal soccer match between France and Belgium in St.Petersburg, Russia, 10 July 2018. EPA-EFE/ETIENNE LAURENT
Romelu Lukaku of Belgium gestures during the FIFA World Cup 2018 semifinal soccer match between France and Belgium in St.Petersburg, Russia, 10 July 2018. Photo: EPA
Vincent Kompany (R) of Belgium and Olivier Giroud (L) of France in action during the FIFA World Cup 2018 semifinal soccer match between France and Belgium in St.Petersburg, Russia, 10 July 2018. EPA-EFE/TOLGA BOZOGLU

It soon became apparent that neither side was going to opt for the full-tilt approach that helped them to the last four.

France were notably more conservative with Belgium pressing and creating more chances in the opening minutes. Whenever Les Bleus did manage to wrangle possession, they set on a brisk counter that almost always came to nought.

The first hair-raising moment came just after 20 minutes in as Hugo Lloris denied Toby Alderweireld with a lurching save.

Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris of France makes a save during the FIFA World Cup 2018 semifinal soccer match between France and Belgium in St.Petersburg, Russia, 10 July 2018. EPA-EFE/ETIENNE LAURENT

Free kicks and possession amounted to nothing in the exchanges that followed and by half-time, with the score locked at 0-0 and given how the first half unfolded, extra time seemed likely.

But Didier Deschamps must have brought out the hairdryer at half-time, because France had a notable spring in their step after the break, despite Belgium’s pressure.

Samuel Umtiti of France (2-R, top) scores the 1-0 lead during the FIFA World Cup 2018 semifinal soccer match between France and Belgium in St.Petersburg, Russia, 10 July 2018. EPA-EFE/ZURAB KURTSIKIDZE
Samuel Umtiti of France celebrates after scoring the 1-0 lead during the FIFA World Cup 2018 semifinal soccer match between France and Belgium in St.Petersburg, Russia, 10 July 2018. EPA-EFE/ETIENNE LAURENT
Samuel Umtiti of France (2-R, top) scores the 1-0 lead during the FIFA World Cup 2018 semifinal soccer match between France and Belgium in St.Petersburg, Russia, 10 July 2018. EPA-EFE/ZURAB KURTSIKIDZE

Finally, in the 51st minute, Samuel Umtiti out-jumped Marouane Fellaini and his hair, heading home Antoine Griezmann’s corner. It was the first Belgium had conceded from that situation since 1994.

France then retreated as Belgium briefly kicked into a higher gear, albeit failing to find a way through.

Eden Hazard of Belgium receives medical attention during the FIFA World Cup 2018 semifinal soccer match between France and Belgium in St.Petersburg, Russia, 10 July 2018. EPA-EFE/TOLGA BOZOGLU
Eden Hazard of Belgium (L) and Olivier Giroud of France in action during the FIFA World Cup 2018 semifinal soccer match between France and Belgium in St.Petersburg, Russia, 10 July 2018. EPA-EFE/ZURAB KURTSIKIDZE

There was a bit getting clattered in the face by a rebounding ball, some wild kicks on the edge of the box on the Red Devils (curiously not spotted by the ref), some amateur time-wasting dramatics from Kylian Mbappe and a few glances at goal to wrap things up.

Romelu Lukaku hardly had a touch, Eden Hazard was a menace, France, at one point, had just 36 percent of possession, but such is the nature of these crunch clashes.

Kylian Mbappe of France (C) is booked by Uruguayan referee Andres Cunha (R) during the FIFA World Cup 2018 semifinal soccer match between France and Belgium in St.Petersburg, Russia, 10 July 2018. EPA-EFE/ZURAB KURTSIKIDZE
French players Antoine Griezmann (L) and Kylian Mbappe (R) react during the FIFA World Cup 2018 semifinal soccer match between France and Belgium in St.Petersburg, Russia, 10 July 2018. France won 1-0. Photo: EPA
France’s head coach Didier Deschamps hugs Blaise Matuidi of France during the FIFA World Cup 2018semifinall soccer match between France and Belgium in St.Petersburg, Russia, 10 July 2018. EPA-EFE/ZURAB KURTSIKIDZE

France will play either England or Croatia in the World Cup final on Sunday. DM

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