France 1-0 Belgium: Les Bleus frustrate Belgium to book their place into the World Cup final
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
The beautiful game can be, at times, not really that aesthetically pleasing. All that matters at the end of the day is the result, irrespective of how a team managed to achieve a win. There were times during France's semi-final victory over Belgium in the World Cup when it wasn't particularly pretty for Didier Deschamps' side, but it was effective. Les Bleus were on the back foot for much of the game, but they struck when it counted - and they are through to their first World Cup final since 2006.
It has been three decades since France won football's biggest competition, lifting the trophy when they hosted the tournament in 1998. And they are one step closer to the top prize with a final against either England or Croatia on Sunday.
The New Yorker argues that France have trolled their way to the final. The Belgians had most of the ball, keeping 64 per cent of the possession, and controlled most of the passes, completing 90 per cent of their 630 passes (almost double the French tally). But Les Diables Rouges struggled to muster any attacks - they may "slid short passes around the edges of the eighteen-yard box", but they only managed three shots on target.
The Belgians failed to be clinical, while the French were happy to soak up the pressure and then ruthlessly strike when it mattered. The only goal of the game came in the 51st minute, thanks to an effective set piece. They have been a regular feature in Russia this summer, with 44 per cent of the goals coming from set piece situations. Antoine Griezmann swung in a corner and French defender Samuel Umtiti was able to rise above his markers, and connect with a towering header. It flew into the back of the net.
One of the most impressive performers in the World Cup, Kylian Mbappe, continued his fine form. The 19-year-old has scored three goals so far in the tournament, more than any teenager since Brazil's Pele in 1958. He sparked a moment of magic just before the hour mark, tricking with an audacious flick to Olivier Giroud in the box. The striker was unable to score, but the pass from Mbappe was mind-boggling, relying purely on instinct.
The PSG forward is leading the charge for the Golden Ball award, according to the Independent. With the exits of France, Argentina and Brazil, it has felt like a changing of the guard in terms of superstars - and Mbappe has stepped into the light.
"He didn't score here and yet the fact that he was still the best player on the night showed just how good he has become. This was arguably just as impressive as his performance against Argentina, given the stakes and the stage and the opposition in front of him," the Independent writes.]
Both goalkeepers, who have been a safe pair of hands for their countries, were tested in this encounter. Thibaut Courtios reacted well to the sharp, fast play from the French, snuffing out a chance from Mbappe who was played in excellently by Paul Pogba. Hugo Lloris at the other end was called upon to deny a smart shot from Toby Alderweireld, and a low shot by Benjamin Pavard.
France were able to frustrate Belgium, and strike when the time was right to book their place in the World Cup final. They will play either England or Croatia on Sunday (K.O. 4pm), and the final will be available to watch on both BBC One and ITV One.