France secured their berth in their third World Cup final in 20 years after they beat Belgium by a close 1-0 scoreline at the Saint Petersburg Stadium on Tuesday. Roberto Martinez’s enjoyed nearly two-thirds of the possession during the course of the semi-final but they were eventually outwit by Samuel Umtiti, who headed in the winner for Les Bleus in the 51st minute.
Three things we learned:
Romelu Lukaku struggles to make an impact: Lukaku’s struggles against stronger opposition have been well documented in the past but he managed to prove his doubters wrong during the quarter-final win over Brazil where he provided the assist for Kevin de Bruyne’s winner. Nevertheless, he failed to replicate a similar showing against Didier Deschamps’ side and most of his touches during the game were outside of the penalty box. A lack of service could be highlighted for his relatively average showing but based on his standards, the fans would surely have expected more from the uprising star.
Nacer Chadli ineffective at right-back: With Thomas Meunier suspended, Martinez could have gone with the experienced Laurent Ciman or Toby Alderweireld on the right side of the defence but the Spaniard eventually fancied Chadli after his impressive showing during the knockouts. However, the move unquestionably backfired in terms of offensive play with Chadli barely getting crosses into the box. The crossing accuracy vastly increased after Dries Mertens was brought on from the bench late in the game but Les Bleus managed to cope with the threat with Steven N’Zonzi making a key interception.
France’s improved defensive performance: With France often preferring an a brand of football, their backline does come under threat from the opposition more often than not. Nevertheless, Les Bleus head into the final with an impressive defensive record after having kept successive clean sheets versus Uruguay and Belgium. Versus Belgium, both Varane and Umtiti denied clear-cut goalscoring opportunities with key interceptions whilst Lloris was also in fine form with a couple of stunning saves. The skipper came for stick for conceding a soft goal versus USA prior to the World Cup but he has certainly overcome this with some stellar blocks during the knockout stage of the tournament.
Image – Getty