Everything was going well for Belgium. They had the right players, they had the world behind them and their fairy tale just went on and on. Until they faced France in the semifinal.
That Les Blue were ranked four points lower is a testament to the fact that Red Devils were destined for great things. Well in football, you take your destiny into your hands- or legs as it were. On the night, Belgium was second best and were it not for Olivier Giroud’s profligacy, the score line could have been higher than the solitary goal.
Thibaut Courtois was disappointed at France’s defensive play, saying to press men that ‘It’s a shame for the football that today Belgium has notwon’. As if defence is not part of the game… France simply did what had to be done. Belgium’s highly rated striker Romelu Lukaku was anonymous on the night. His teammate Eden Hazard was a threat to the French side but they did just about enough to keep him at bay. Along with Paul Pogba (who sacrificed his flashy tendencies for practical man marking), the France midfield hounded every ball and chased down every pass. Defender Umtiti’s 51 st minute goal was enough to settle the battle. The Belgian dream was over and France were in the World Cup final, hoping to recreate the magic of 1998.
One man who was flashy on the night was 19year old Kylian Mbappe. The PSG forward is becoming the break out star of this world cup, having seen the backs of Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar. He’s strong, fast and possesses a football brain that is far ahead of his years; he was a thorn in the flesh of the Belgians throughout the game. Every tournament has its own unforgettable moment. Mbappe’s glorious shimmy/dummy pass may very well be the one for Russia 2018.
Marked by two Belgian defenders in the18 yard box, he collected a ball with the studs of his right foot and flicked it behind with the left in one deft move. It is better seen than described.
The pass went through to Olivier Giroud who is infamous for scuffling his lines and he was the same, allowing Courtois to spread himself and smother the ball. Still it was a joy to behold.
One person who may have had some joy but couldn’t express it well was Belgium’s assistant coach- France 98 hero and legend Thierry Henry. It was going to be a difficult game for him anyway, plotting the downfall of the team he scored 57 goals for. He must understand that it’s football and as seen when he hugged Didier Deschamps (France coach and Henry’s former team mate), all is well that ends well.
Tonight, England face Croatia in the other semifinal match. It seems impossible to the English that they might lose. On paper, they have the better team. Will their hearts break after 90 minutes? We’ll wait and see.
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