FIFA World Cup: Day Twenty Two Column

profiles Deschamps and Martinez, previewing tonights semi-final

The first game of the quarter-finals saw France take on Uruguay as France raced through to the semi-finals via a Raphael Varane header just before half time. As the game wore on it was increasingly evident that Uruguay were missing half of their two-man-tandem, in Edinson Cavani. As Christian Stuani showed us why he failed as Middlesbrough. A goalkeeping mistake from Fernando Muslera showcased the cruel nature of football given his impressive tournament thus far, as he parried an Antoine Griezmann shot into the net. The result meant France continued their great form in this tournament, without actually impressing *that* much, maybe barring their win against Argentina. This is with me still marking France as favourites for the competition.

France simply have too much quality in both boxes, given the attacking threat they pose, be it Griezmann, Mbappe or Giroud as starters or Fekir, Thauvin and Dembele off the bench, their arsenal of talent is simply superfluous. Add to that the El Clasico centre-back duo of Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane and a competent Hugo Lloris behind them. If that wasn’t enough, they also have two of the world’s most talented midfielders in Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, it is easy to see why Les Bleus have managed to reach the semi-final.

Coming into the tournament questions were raised over Deschamps and some of the strange tactical decisions that he has made as the manager given the wealth of talent available. But if you look at his CV, it is clear to see that he is the best manager left at this World Cup. Not only did he reach the 2004 Champions League Final with Monaco at the tender age of 35, becoming 90 minutes away from the first *legitimate* French Champions League winners. Adding to this the credible job he did at Juventus following the Calciopoli scandal. He also won Ligue 1 with Marseille in 2010 to secure their first title since the early 1990’s.

It is quite fitting then that France’s opposition manager in the semi-final is the next best manger in the competition, Roberto Martinez. After doing extremely well at Swansea and Wigan, spending within their means whilst playing attractive football, he then moved onto Everton where the club narrowly missed out on fourth place, and Champions League football.

The system deployed against Brazil was a distinct change from their previous line-ups. Pushing Kevin De Bruyne further up the pitch in a false 9 role, with Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard flanking him. Marouane Fellaini came in to deputised in the deeper role, whilst Dries Mertens was dropped. Belgium were absolutely devastating on the counter attack, with their front three causing the back line of Brazil all sorts of problems. Brazil, unstuck by an early Fernandinho own goal, failed to find substance going forward amongst several of Neymar’s dramatic rolls. That was of course until Brazil found themselves 2-0 down before they managed to find the back of the net.

The match between France and Belgium is poised to be an excellent spectacle of two footballing titans. France will look to avenge their Euro 2016 final defeat, whilst Belgium will look to avenge their disappointing 2014 World Cup and 2016 Euro’s.

The semi-final is set up then, for the last chance of one golden generation, and the coming of another. This is Belgium Vs France.

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