Monday, 16 July, 2018

France reaches World Cup final with victory over Belgium

Jordan Henderson England World Cup Thierry Henry: the French legend plotting his country's downfall as part of Belgium's coaching staff
Cary Erickson | 11 July, 2018, 04:41

Roberto Martinez's surprise 4-3-3 was just insane enough to confuse the Brazil defence throughout the first half of their quarter-final, which puts them in a strong position to do something similar on the counter-attack against France - particularly through the middle.

Samuel Umtiti fires France into the lead against Belgium.

"We have shown that we have a very nice team", he said.

Belgium's beaten players did not want to talk about the end of an era - not with stars like 27-year-old De Bruyne, 26-year-old Courtois and 25-year-old Lukaku in the team and more coming through the youth ranks. "The effort from the players was magnificent, I couldn't ask for more".

'We wanted to get to the final, the players showed a real togetherness and focus and when the result is not there you can not be anything but disappointed'.

Thousands of delirious French fans celebrated the victory on the Champs-Elysees avenue and at a giant screen viewing area at the town hall in Paris, letting off smoke flares and waving flags. Belgium reached the quarterfinals at the 2014 World Cup and the European Championship in 2016 but has yet to fulfil its lofty expectations.

But here's one thing Deschamps can be sure of: if Lukaku has a one-on-one duel with the French goalkeeper, and pauses just before the final shot, or if Eden Hazard cuts in from the left and curls his shot across Hugo Lloris, each of them will have taken expert advice on how to finesse those manoeuvres from one Thierry Henry, French legend.

Croatia, on the other hand, find themselves reaping the rewards - at long last - of a golden generation of players, who for so long teased with potential and promise, but never made good on their proverbial "dark-horse" status at major tournaments.

Martinez bemoaned the goal his team conceded from a corner. No, I play at City.

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In the semifinal, both sides will play a game of "pick your poison" in what promises to be an energetic, back-and-forth match.

The loss saw Belgium miss out on reaching a first World Cup final, but they can still better their fourth-place finish of 1986.

Manager Gareth Southgate said his inexperienced side must look to perform at their "regular level" despite the pressure.

Belgium will be without Thomas Meunier for the first time in the tournament, as the PSG midfield has also picked up a suspension.

But Belgians will now wonder if they have seen the best chance for this talented generation of players to win a major worldwide title.

Croatia defender Dejan Lovren believes his exhausted team are ready to seize the opportunity of a lifetime.

For the first time this summer, the benefits of training under Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino became clear. Its best chance came in the 39th minute when Kylian Mbappe flicked a short through ball to Benjamin Pavard from the right side, but Courtois managed a kick-save on Pavard's shallow angle shot, sending it wide.

However, Liverpool centre-back Lovren does not think that will be a factor.