Tuesday, 14 August, 2018

Umtiti rises highest as France vanquishes Belgium to reach World Cup final

England World Cup semi-final England face Croatia in the World Cup semi-finals Credit AFP
Lora Ball | 11 July, 2018, 03:04

Belgium captain Eden Hazard says that France's Kylian Mbappe is already a serious contender for the Ballon d'Or.

"We've strived to be as good as we could be at global level and it's taken us two years to get there".

After his team fell behind, Martinez took off Dembele and pulled De Bruyne back into central midfield, and though Belgium did not get a goal, they controlled the play better and created more chances.

"I think after our game against Japan, we discussed and we talked with the coach; we concluded that if we played the same way against Brazil, we would lose the game. On a personal level it is with great pleasure that I'm going to see him tomorrow".

"It wasn't about having a good tournament and coming "top four" - it was about trying to win it".

Belgium paid the price for failing to take their chances against France but will now have to shake off their disappointment and focus on finishing third at the World Cup, their coach Roberto Martinez said after his team's defeat in the semi-final.

For the die-hard France fans, there's one twist that makes this semifinal convincing.

"It's essential to have a player like Kevin, that he can play different roles", Martinez said. De Bruyne only has one goal thus far, but his presence has impacted every Belgian victory thus far. "That's the quality that he has".

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Many teams where stars on their jerseys that mark the number of World Cup titles they have won.

With Thomas Meunier suspended, Belgium shifted to a back four as Martinez selected Nacer Chadli on the right.

"Belgium played a great game against Brazil with a specific game plan".

"Will they do something similar for us?"

"Because of the seven years I spent in France I feel 99 percent Belgian and one percent French, but the idea of taking French nationality never crossed my mind" Hazard once said when asked about the possibility. Of course, there are no guarantees in the World Cup, especially in 2018.

The Barcelona man's 51st-minute winning header made him the third French defender to score at this tournament. "France are used to these big games but we coped with that side really well".

France will face the victor of the second semifinal between England and Croatia, which kicks off on Thursday at 6am (NZ Time).

"We had a training session of less than 45 minutes in which we understood everything the coach wanted, which is a tight defence that would force Brazil to open spaces for us, and this what happened especially in the first half". With the sides hard to separate on paper, how they handle the pressure, and perhaps those little nuggets of inside knowledge, could make all the difference.

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