The first of the semi-finals provided the watching world with another titanic meeting of two brilliant teams, France and Belgium. Since the exit of previous favourites Brazil, France had taken on the mantle of expected winners, but standing in their way was an extremely talented side that many have dubbed as the Belgian ‘golden generation’.
The match came to life swiftly, Belgium looking the more likely to open the scoring when captain Eden Hazard cut inside and had a wicked strike deflected just over the bar by the head of French defender Raphaël Varane. Belgium kept up their pressure, forcing Hugo Lloris into a wonder save after a swivelling effort by Tottenham clubmate Toby Alderweireld.
France then got a foothold in the game through star man Kylian Mbappé, causing chaos yet again with an exquisite first time cross for Olivier Giroud to scuff into the arms of Thibaut Courtois. Mbappé, who I’m going to dub as the greatest player in existence (except for Harry Kane) really took advantage of France’s foothold, setting up Benjamin Pavard with a delightful pass behind the Belgian line, which but for a big save from Courtois would have been the opening goal. Not much else of note happened before the half-time whistle blew, but once the second half began, the game spiced up.
France boss Didier Deschamps clearly had strong words over the interval, as after just six minutes Samuel Umtiti headed the French in front from a corner, with the help of Belgian troglodyte Marouane Fellaini’s massive hair. Mbappé sent the globe into a fit of pleasurable convulsion with the pass of the tournament soon after taking the lead, setting up Olivier Giroud again with an outrageous roulette back-heel in the area, displaying unbelievable levels of creativity, control and precision for a 19-year-old that wouldn’t look out of place behind the bar at Courtyard. A true phenomenon and my pick for golden ball winner, should France go on to win the tournament.
They certainly have the chance to after this semi-final ended 1-0 to Les Bleus in a game that neither side dominated. The key came down to the French taking their big chance when it came, and defending with their lives. Belgium captain provided a large dose of salt in his post-match interview, saying that “I would rather lose with this Belgium than win with that France”. I’m sure the French won’t care though, as they are now only 90 minutes from a World Cup winners medal and a second star (cri) and he has to return to Chelsea. I know where I’d rather be…