France squad takes a break after qualifying for World Cup final

The last time a Belgium team got this far at the World Cup, it lost 2-0 to Argentina at the 1986 tournament in Mexico.

80': Marouane Fellaini comes off, Yannick Carrasco comes in.

Fellaini has been a fringe player Manchester United nearly let go. "That's more my style".

Eden Hazard with the ball at his feet on the edge of the area and Kevin de Bruyne dictating play are unsafe prospects and it was risky business for the French, but when they did get a chance to counter, they were frighteningly quick and equally unsafe.

The 51st-minute goal proved the uncomplicated difference in a match where a rich cast of exciting footballers held out the promise of exquisite skills, devastating movement and brilliant finishing.

The trend of headed goals continued in Russian Federation as Umtiti's was a record 26th.

France, well-organised and always a threat on the counter-attack through the lively Kylian Mbappe, were watertight at the back and restricted the Belgians to just a handful of chances. Fellaini and Chadli went from being late stage disruptors to starting the game.

The men to watch out for in the Belgium set up will be Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne, who play for rival Manchester clubs in the Premier League.

Numerous country's "Golden Generation" - like Hazard, de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Courtois - are still aged under 28.

Martinez then tore up the game plan that had worked like a dream against Brazil. Who needs ancestral relation to be drawn into a World Cup semi-final anyway? Meunier has had a significant role to play; we have seen him perform assists, goals and generally participate well in matches. It was only when Napoli winger Dries Mertens came on as a substitute later that crosses began to flow. All five were wasted. "The game was, as you can imagine, very close, very tight, and it was going to be decided (on) maybe the one that could find that final touch in the box". De Bruyne's best position is in that central attacking area.

Massive speakers conveyed the noise from Russian Federation but, in the hall, the cheers rose and fell like Mexican waves, as viewers, with French flags pinned to their hair, tucked into pockets, pasted on foreheads and draped around shoulders, watched sharp moves and missed shots.

France managed to keep Belgium quiet.

Up in the corporate seats, president Macron reacted to the goal by shaking the hand of King Philippe of Belgium as Federation Internationale de Football Association president Gianni Infantino watched on between them.

And Spain has flogged its tiki-taka game of possession and passing to death and needs to find a new path to victory and without midfielder Andres Iniesta, who retired after Spain's loss to Russian Federation in the first knockout round.

France coach Didier Deschamps urged his side to seize their chance of redemption in the World Cup final after admitting he has still not got over the pain of defeat in the Euro 2016 final. France was risky in the break, but Coach Roberto Martinez made sure that Mbappe was not given space to run. Then there is the Duracell Bunny who is N'Golo Kante protecting the backline. Digging up these two treasures was one of Deschamps' smartest moves.

Sumit Chakraberty is an author and freelance writer based in Bengaluru.

Vanessa Coleman

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