Didier Deschamp’s France trumped Belgium to a final spot by a goal to nothing, guiding the Les Blues to their third World Cup final. With the game looking tight, it took 51 minutes for the French side to find the opening goal and there was no looking back ever since.
Antoine Griezmann lobbed in a telling cross from a corner and Samuel Umtiti rose above an in-form Marouane Fellaini to head the ball past Thibaut Courtois, who just couldn’t react in time.
Belgium wasn’t too keen on letting things stay the way they were and kept knocking on their doors, but France’s defence stayed tight and decided to play on the counter. The French held on to seal a historic win over the Diables Rouge and are set to face either Croatia or England in the World Cup final at the Luzhniki Stadium.
Here are the three reasons why France confidently dispatched a talented Belgian side:
#3 Roberto Martinez failed to find a solution after losing Thomas Meunier
The wing-back has been in excellent form for the Red Devils and picked up a yellow-card against Brazil in the previous round, suspending him from the semi-final.
Many expected Roberto Martinez to maybe switch back to a four-man defence but the Spaniard persisted with 3-4-3.
In came Nacer Chadli, ensuring that Mousa Dembele cemented his spot in the middle. The French took full advantage of this confusion, with the Belgian midfield often being caught sleeping and just a second behind the French attackers.
Pogba and Kante helped the attack transition seamlessly, ensuring that the Belgian midfield often found themselves in an uncomfortable position.
It’s pretty clear that Dembele himself will be singled out for putting in yet another poor performance with his national side, which has seen him sidelined for quite a while.
A lack of Meunier also meant that Lucas Hernandez was never tested on the left as the Belgian wing-back has so often done in previous games.
His darting runs have given the Belgian’s the width they have required while also providing them with a creative outlet via aerial balls. All this came crashing down and the French left-back had a relatively comfortable game in his hands.
The introduction of Dries Mertens was also too late and many would be of the opinion that the Napoli star should have started the game.
He looked increasingly dangerous as the game came to a close, despite a solid French defence ensuring that the Belgian forward’s couldn’t connect with his crosses.
#2 They effectively shut down the Belgian attack
With the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku on their side, the Belgian’s have been scarily impressive during their attacking transitions. They move the ball forward with so much ease and comfort that it almost looks effortless.
Didier Deschamps knew that his side would have to really negate any impact the Belgian stars could have in the game if they were to go through to the final.
Belgium often found their creative midfielder’s struggling to either provide the service or penetrate an impressive French defence.
France was in no mood to mindlessly recycle possession with no end result. Kante and Pogba found it relatively easy to hold down the fort, as the creative fronts of the Belgian attack often dropped deep to get things moving forward.
The midfield was a hot-pot of individual battles and it’s safe to say that France won it there as well.
Adding to the fact that Giroud, Griezmann and Mbappe tirelessly dropped back to cover for their team-mates, Belgium found it to be an increasingly hard task to turn the tie around.
Varane and Umtiti didn’t face a single problem when it came to suppressing Lukaku’s role, who was quite literally in both their pockets.
The Belgian striker struggled, unlike his previous performances, to make something out of nothing.
#1 Hugo Lloris steps up to the occasion
Belgium looked scarily dominant during the early parts of the game and the French goalkeeperhad to deserve every little bit of the Golden Glove he was awarded at the end of 90 minutes.
He denied fellow club team-mate Toby Alderweireld in the 22nd minute with a spectacular dive at full stretch, sending the footballing world into a frenzy.
This kind of confidence resonated with the rest of the squad, who slowly grew into the game. France did have ten more shots on goal than the Belgians, but there is no denying the fact that the French road-block in the final third had a massive impact on the game.
The captain is leading from the front and there is no denying that he has had a tremendous effect on a well-oiled French defence.
The goalkeeper definitely had an impact on how his defenders set themselves up, who held on to a 1-0 lead despite facing the tournament’s top goalscorers.
Lloris has been a key figure throughout their World Cup campaign but a near-perfect performance in a World Cup semi-final is what separates him from the rest of the pack.
His opposite number, Thibaut Courtois has also been in splendid form during this tournament. He, however, could do very little to deny Umtiti’s ferocious header from going in.