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Russia 2018 World Cup: France beat Belgium to advance to final; Belgium eyes 3rd place position

  By Olawale Alabi
France smoothly dominated Belgium on Tuesday in St Petersburg for a commanding 1-0 win to advance to Sunday’s final match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

It was a match of high expectations, judging from both sides’ run-up to the semi-finals and the quality of their players.

But the 64,286 crowd did not have much to cheer once France took charge, as Belgium’s much-touted high-scoring forwardline were kept in check.

And it was even a sign of the fact that the France backline had not much to worry about when Samuel Umtiti outjumped Marouane Fellaini in the 51st minute to score.

The game’s opening moments were unexpectedly dull, with both sides showing some cautiousness, limiting the goalkeepers to just a few loose balls to pick up.

But then, solid defending by Vincent Kompany, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen for Belgium, and France’s Benjamin Pavard, Raphael Varane, Umtiti and Lucas Hernandez also helped to keep the game goalless.

However, the French’s adventurous efforts upfront yielded some results when Olivier Giroud’s shot on the turn was blocked for a corner kick by Kompany, and Umtiti scored from Antoine Griezmann’s effort.

With Ngolo Kante, Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi and Kylian Mbappe holding the advantage in the middle, Belgium had no chance to initiate good offensive moves.

Romelu Lukaku failed to find his range in spite of good efforts by Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Fellaini, while Moussa Dembele, Nacer Chadli and Axel Witsel just ran around.

Dries Mertens’ entry in the 60th minute bolstered the Belgian attack, with Fellaini’s header missing target by inches in the 65th minute, but by then the game was already won.

It only wore on to a dull end, with both sides chalking up yellow cards, three for Belgium and two for France who even looked to be doubling their lead.

France will now head to Moscow to meet on Sunday the winners of Wednesday’s other semi-final pairing, between England and Croatia.

Belgium on the other hand will stay back in St Petersburg to face Wednesday’s match losers in the third-place match on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Belgium coach, Roberto Martinez, says he and his players will not allow the disappointment of missing the final match to stop them from preparing very well for the third-place match.

The Spaniard, while speaking at the post-match conference on Tuesday in St Petersburg after their 0-1 loss to France in the semi-finals, said a third-place finish would be too good to miss.

“It is going to be a difficult moment for us to manage, but we have to do it quickly and get going.

“The task of getting the players to get over today’s loss, I will admit, is going to be difficult to deal with, but I think we have something important too before us.

“In 1986 at Mexico, Belgium finished fourth, but now in Russia we can still finish third, and I think we have to look forward to that. We need to be ready to win that game.

“I don’t want my players to feel bad or disappointed at all. Now is the time to look forward to our last game here,’’ he said.

Martinez said the loss to France really hurt them, disclosing that the team’s dressing room after the match was a sad atmosphere.

“Playing in Sunday’s final match had been the dreams and hopes of all of us, because we came here to go all the way and play in the final match.

“But, that has not been the case here, because we didn’t produce the energy and sharpness needed to break down a side like this France team,’’ he said.

The coach admitted that his team lacked that “little bit of composure and movement’’ needed in the third half of the pitch during the game.

“Things could have been different for us with that. We needed that movement mostly. It is a good part of our game.

“Moreover, the fact that we couldn’t score the game’s first goal was a problem to us, because of the way the France team was organised. It was not just good for us,’’ he said.


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