Barcelona’s Samuel Umtiti secured France’s place in the 2018 World Cup final with the only goal of the game as they outwitted Belgium in a 1-0 win. The French now await England or Croatia in their first final since 2006, and will feel that they’re more than capable of bringing home their second title.
Labeled as the Thierry Henry Derby, this game was significant in displaying the French connections on and off the pitch. Former French player, Henry, sat on the Belgian bench as part of Roberto Martinez’s coaching staff; a sight people in France were grieved to see.
Belgium came close to opening the scoring in the 24th minute through Toby Alderweireld, but his Tottenham team-mate, Hugo Lloris, denied him with a brilliant save. Two other chances from Eden Hazard were denied by Rafael Varane, as he came up with two big blocks to deny the Belgian captain. Another Chelsea man, Olivier Giroud, along with Kylian Mbappe, threatened on the other end of the pitch, but they didn’t do enough to breach Thibaut Courtois’ goal.
With the game goal-less for 51 minutes, it took yet another set-piece to open it up. From a right-sided corner Samuel Umtiti rose above Marounne Fellaini to head the ball home from 6 yards out. Set-pieces are definitely the theme of this World Cup. 69 of the 158 goals at Russia 2018 so far have come from set-piece situations.
Umtiti’s effort was the 32nd headed goal at this World Cup. The last edition with more was 2002 (35).
Samuel Umtiti has joined a special club.
Four of France’s last six goals in World Cup semi-finals have come from defenders: Marius Tresor (v West Germany, 1982) and Lilian Thuram (two v Croatia, 1998).
The Belgians sought to get an equalizer by making attacking substitutions, bringing on Mertens, Yannick Carrasco and Michy Batshuayi. But today just wasn’t their day as nothing went their way. France held on to win 1-0, relegating Belgium to a third-place playoff.
France’s manager, Didier Deschamps, now has the chance to be third coach to win the World Cup as, both, a player and a coach. Only Mario Zagallo (Brazil) and Franz Beckenbauer (Germany) have achieved this feat. The French will be keeping a keen eye on tomorrow’s semi-final, scouting what they’ll be up against on Sunday. Their last World Cup final (2006) didn’t go well — we all know what happened then (Zinedine Zidane rings a bell?). Generally, their last final didn’t go well, losing 1-0 to Portugal on this day (July 10th) in 2016. But they’ll be looking to defeat their demons and make 2018 their year.
A little side note from me:
I’m an avid PES fan and the only game mode I really play is Master League. At a point in my Master League, I managed England (and Chelsea). In the European Championship, I won it by beating France 1-0 (2016 parallel to Portugal) and two (in-game) years later, I beat France, again, 1-0 in the World Cup final. Considering that England are in the semi-finals, would they go on to play France and win? That’s left to be seen. But if my Master League turns out to be a football oracle, I’ll definitely be looking out for more parallels in the future.