Belgium had the chance to make history on Tuesday night against France in the first semi-final of the World Cup. However, Roberto Martinez’s team failed to show up against Les Bleus, and Didier Deschamps side recorded a 1-0 win.
While some observers were lauding the quality on display, it took a deflected header from Samuel Umtiti from a set-piece to decide the last-four. In truth, the feeling I was left with after the game was what happened to the Red Devils star players.
What happened to Belgium’s star players?
Many will attribute France’s win to tactical brilliance from French boss Didier Deschamps, that he outwitted Belgium’s Roberto Martinez. Yes, France closed down space well and stopped Belgium from playing.
However, the Red Devils have the likes of Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Romelu Lukaku in their team. These are regarded as top attacking players, who can take on most defences.
All three were superb against Brazil in the quarter-final. France were much stronger defensively, so Martinez’s team struggled to break them down. For me, the trio should have been better.
Hazard looked to have the beating of French full-back Benjamin Pavard early on and looked bright. As the game wore on though, the winger disappeared out of the game and struggled to have an impact.
At one point during the semi-final, I had to check that star striker Romelu Lukaku was actually on the pitch, he was that quiet. The forward tends to disappear during big games. Granted he did not have great service, but top players make things happen.
Kevin De Bruyne is one of my favourite Premier League midfielders. However, France nullified the Manchester City star far too easily. He kept prodding and probing, but he was doing it far too far away from goal to make an attacking impact.
It is in these sorts of games were genuinely top players step-up and become heroes. Unfortunately, for Belgium, their top players were not up to the job.
France will be tough opponents in the final
It is quite scary to think that France have such great attacking players, but have arguably not been at their best going forward. Youngster Kylian Mbappe is developing into one of the stories of the tournament.
At 19, he has so much promise, technical ability and sheer pace. He just has to watch out for some bad habits he seems to have picked up from a certain PSG teammate. If he can do that he can be a great player.
Apart from the obvious danger of Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann going forward (I am not going include the wasteful Olivier Giroud in that), France have looked solid in midfield and defence.
Raphael Varane was majestic at centre-back. The Real Madrid star is finally fulfilling his potential with club and country. Then there is the Duracell Bunny who is N’Golo Kante protecting the backline.
France will be tough opponents for either Croatia or England in the final. However, Les Bleus are not unbeatable by any stretch of the imagination. Whoever faces Deschamps team in Sunday’s final, it should be a fascinating clash.
Will France go on to lift the World Cup on Sunday?