Belgium ended a brilliant tournament on a low as they sloped out of the World Cup with a whimper in a 1-0 defeat to France.
Roberto Martinez’s side began brilliantly but faded once Les Bleus got a grip on proceedings. And once Samuel Umtiti’s bullet header found the back of the net shortly after the break, they rarely looked like getting back into it.
Here we rate the Belgium players:
Thibaut Courtois – 8:
Was heroic in the brilliant Brazil victory, fine stop from Pavard set the tone. Saved late from Tolisso. Let down badly by misfiring attack.
Nacer Chadli – 3:
Slotted into an unfamiliar right-back slot. A bizarre decision from Martinez, who kept him on throughout. End product was woefully under par.
Vincent Kompany – 6:
Committed as always but failed to find the spark to ignite his side as Belgium meandered to defeat.
Jan Vertonghen – 5:
Once France got going found it a struggle to keep up with the roaming Mbappe. Four clearances and three tackles led his side.
Toby Alderweireld – 6:
Had more touches (120) than any player on the field, his most important one saw his snapshot brilliantly palmed away by Lloris.
Mousa Dembele – 5:
Struggled to keep Kante in check despite Belgium’s early dominance. Hooked for Mertens on the hour.
Axel Witsel – 7:
A workmanlike shift in the heart of midfield, his 98.3 per cent pass success was sublime. Didn’t deserve to be on the losing side.
Eden Hazard – 8:
Began the game like he finished against Brazil – brilliantly. Tormented Benjamin Pavard but frustratingly looked Belgium’s sole source of inspiration.
Marouane Fellaini – 6:
Dragged France’s defence this way and that, but was outmuscled by Umtiti for France’s opener. A menacing yet mystifying outing.
Kevin De Bruyne – 6:
Link-up play with Hazard was initially a danger. Showed flashes of his best but was kept largely on the periphery and faded badly.
Romelu Lukaku – 4:
Struggled to get into the game, with just 10 first half touches. Endured a torrid 90 minutes as nothing seemed to stick.
Dries Mertens – 7:
Replaced the dreary Dembele and immediately illuminated proceedings, with his crosses causing chaos.
Yannick Carrasco N/A
Entered the fray with 10 minutes remaining – only touched the ball three times.
Michy Batshuayi N/A
Came on with no time to make an impact whatsoever.
The decisive moment came early in the second half when Samuel Umtiti rose immaculately to nod in Antoine Griezmann’s in swinging corner.
It seemed to take the sting out of Belgium, who began brilliantly but were unable to capitalise on their early dominance. After the goal France managed to keep them at arm’s length as they held on comfortably.
Here we rate the France players:
Hugo Lloris – 7:
Stunning save to deny Alderweireld calmed him down after a shaky start. Kept Belgium at bay but handling was unnerving.
Benjamin Pavard – 4:
Roasted regularly by a rampant Hazard as he looked out of his depth. Brought a fine stop out of Courtois.
Raphael Varane – 7:
Vital touch to deflect Hazard’s blistering drive over. Dealt well with Belgium’s aerial bombardment.
Samuel Umtiti – 8:
Had been quiet until meeting Griezmann’s corner with a bullet header. Alongside Varane, kept Lukaku shackled.
Lucas Hernandez – 6:
A constant outlet down France’s left. A quiet and confident display belied his 22 years.
N’Golo Kante – 7:
A few poor touches, but boundless energy fueled France, especially as they struggled to get to grips with Belgium early on.
Paul Pogba – 7:
Precision through ball early on almost sent Mbappe clear. Otherwise his defensive traits came to the fore. Four tackles was second only to Matuidi.
Kylian Mbappe – 8:
Scintillating skill and blistering pace was a massive problem all night. Back-heel to Giroud was otherworldly. Six key passes.
Antoine Griezmann – 8:
Struggled initially to exert his influence, but typified France’s eventual emergence as he pulled the strings for Les Bleus.
Blaise Matuidi – 7:
Found himself in a more alien forward role. Venemous early rocket stung Courtois’ palms. Energy and engine was excellent.
Olivier Giroud – 5:
Didn’t appear on the same wavelength as his fellow attackers. Heavily involved but couldn’t quite get his brain and feet in sync.
Steven N’Zonzi N/A
Came on to replace the tireless Matuidi and shore up France’s advantage.
Corentin Tolisso N/A
Brought on late to stretch Belgium. Denied a clinching goal by Courtois’s plunging left hand.
Gareth Southgate has come to the rescue of forward Raheem Sterling, who was criticised in the build-up to the World Cup, in Russia and admitted that the Manchester City star is a “fundamental” part of the England set-up.
Sterling has started four of England’s five games in the tournament so far, and while he has looked threatening on occasions, he has been unable to end his international goal drought that dates back to October 2015.
The 23-year-old doesn’t have a good goal record – managing to score just twice in 42 appearances for England – that too against modest sides Lithuania and Estonia, while his goalscoring record under Pep Guardiola last season was a career-best of 23 goals in 46 appearances, in what was City’s Premier League title-winning campaign.
And while Sterling was a major threat to Sweden’s defence in the quarter-finals and caused trouble time and again, finding pockets of space throughout, he missed a one on one chance when it came his way. But Southgate believes the forward has been contributing immensely in the cause of the team.
“I think Raheem has been fundamental to the way we have played – his movement, the positions he takes up, his pressing of the ball, his work rate for the team, the winning of free-kicks, the winning of corners, his speed to stretch teams,” Southgate told the ITV World Cup podcast.
“He was a constant threat to Sweden. Of course he hasn’t scored the goals he would have liked to score but for myself and the players he has been a crucial part of the way we have been playing.”
Sterling was widely criticised ahead of the World Cup for having a tattoo of a gun on his leg. A few pundits even went to the extent of saying he should be dropped from the squad.
And while he did respond to the noise surrounding his tattoo, explaining that it was a tribute to his father, who was shot dead in his birthplace of Jamaica when Sterling was just two-years-old – the way he has learned keeping criticism aside and focusing on the task at hand, is commendable, feels team mate Eric Dier.
“The way Raheem’s handled everything from when we met up until now has been incredible,” said Dier.
“It’s so clear to see if you were to watch back until now the importance he has on the team. He’s had a fantastic tournament so far and hopefully he can continue to have one in the next week.”
Now, as England get ready to enter a tough contest in the World Cup semi-final on Wednesday, Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic is of the view that Sterling will have an impact on the game and could be the difference-maker.
“I think Raheem Sterling is an important player because he is fast and dangerous alongside Harry Kane,” said Dalic ahead of Wednesday’s clash in Moscow.