France beat Belgium 1-0 to reach the World Cup final on Tuesday.
Samuel Umtiti headed in the only goal of the game from a corner in the second half. Belgium had the greater share of possession but Les Bleus remained solid to book their spot in the final.
Here’s a look at how they gained the tactical edge over their opponents.
Goals – 1
Shots – 19
Possession – 36%
Tackles – 18
Dribbles – 10
Didier Deschamps kept faith with his 4-2-3-1 system and pulled no surprises with a predictable but formidable line-up. Blaise Matuidi started on the left side of attacking midfield as N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba patrolled the middle. Matuidi tucked into central midfield though, allowing Pogba to stride forward when the opportunity presented itself.
Olivier Giroud was the focal point of the attack while Antoine Griezmann shuttled between midfield and attack, being the link-man between the two. Once France gained the lead though, they formed a low block, with even Giroud retreating to the edge of his own box at times. Only Kylian Mbappe was their attacking outlet.
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
Threat in behind
Unsurprisingly, France were happy to invite Belgium onto them and didn’t get caught up in some of their movement in forward areas. The defence held their line well while Belgium’s stepped up, leaving plenty of space in behind. As soon as France won possession, they shifted the ball with quick exchanges before looking for the through ball, usually directed at the pacey Mbappe.
Pogba was excellent in the transition, wriggling free on a few occasions before playing the forward pass. Giroud was also a target while Griezmann was excellent at pulling into space intelligently.
Surely he will finally receive the plaudits he deserves? Not a scintillating display yet again but few coaches could have so effectively neutralised this Belgian side brimming with attacking talent and flair. He hasn’t often played the champagne football the fans have yearned for, or that was expected from the attacking options at his disposal.
He’s stuck by a striker who is yet to score at this tournament and has kept more threatening players like Ousmane Demeble, Nabil Fekir and Thomas Lemar on the bench. But there’s no doubting he’s forged a formidable unit, one that has made the final.
Rating – 7/10
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.