France 1-0 Belgium: A cohesion that justifies favoritism

Precisely two years after losing the final of the European Championship at home, against Portugal, France secured a new presence in a final, now to fight for the world title.

A header from Samuel Umtiti eliminated Belgium and decided a real chess duel between Didier Deschamps and Roberto Martinez. The game had few chances for goals but was tactically very rich, and ended up being decided by a set piece, a mark of this tournament.

France has once again shown that, beyond talent, it presents an impressive maturity for a team with a lot of youth. A cohesion that justifies slight favoritism in the final, whatever the opponent.

With Fellaini as Pogba’s private bodyguard and Griezmann having difficulty to receive the ball between the lines, France lived on the irreverence of Mbappé, who soon began to give headaches to Vertonghen, even with Dembelé around. It was Kylian who isolate Pavard for the best French occasion of the first half (Courtois defended with his foot), and his moment of genius in the second half has assured Mbappé a place in the tournament “best of” video.

But this French team knows that talent means nothing without sacrifice, and showed again an impressive cohesion, a collective sense that goes from one end of the field to the other. To prove this we had the defensive effort that Griezmann and Giroud had to make, since Deschamps asked them to watch Witsel and Dembelé, hoping that Alderweireld, Kompany and Vertonghen would not create problems with the ball at their feet.

This allowed Matuidi, Pogba and Kanté to concentrate on closing the central zone, where De Bruyne and Hazard often create problems. Belgium was “invited” to play by the flanks, but without success, although the French strategy left Pavard a little unprotected. Hazard almost took advantage of a 1v1 situation to score, with only 19 minutes played, but strangely Belgium didn’t persist with this option.

Unable to serve Lukaku by land, the “red devils” fell into the temptation of crosses, especially through Chadli, but France managed to control this, even with Fellaini also appearing in the area. Pogba paid in the same currency and was always around, but the biggest compliment has to be given to Varane, who was absolutely imperial in the French defense (with six clearances, three ball recoveries, two aerial duels won and one shot blocked).

Umtiti had one or two slips, but without consequences. In any case he would redeem himself with the goal that gave the win to France and earned him the first place in the leader board, ahead of Antoine Griezmann, who made the assist.

France are through to their third World Cup final, but who will they face? On this evidence they will be confident and favourites whether it is Croatia or England.

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