We examine the key things learned after France booked their place in the World Cup final after a 1-0 win over Belgium
Samuel Umtiti headed France into the World Cup final in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday with a 1-0 win, consigning Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ to another bitter disappointment.
France’s own supremely talented young squad will aim to make amends for defeat on home soil in the final of Euro 2016 in Sunday’s showpiece against England or Croatia.
Here, we examine some of the key talking points.
FRANCE LOOK LIKE CHAMPIONS
France are through to the World Cup final for a third time in six tournaments and rather ominously they’re stepping it up when it matters most.
Les Bleus have looked a little blah during their campaign but in the semi-final, particularly through Kyllian Mbappe, they splashed moments of real colour and quality.
For much of the first-half, they sat back and were patient as Belgium’s metronome passing saw them dominate possession but struggle for penetration.
But it was actually Benjamin Pavard who came closest to scoring in the opening 45 minutes with the full-back denied by a stunning stop from Thibaut Courtois after an incisive ball from Mbappe.
Their deserved winner arrived six minutes after the break as Umtiti ran across Marouane Fellaini and headed home from Antoine Griezmann’s corner.
Remarkably, the goal was the 69th from a set-piece in Russia from a total of 158 so while the scorer was a little surprising, the method was not.
And ultimately there was nothing shocking about France’s performance. They produce in moments and flashes rather than free-flowing stirring football throughout and it’s a tactic straight out of Germany’s 2014 playbook.
They are efficient and effective, dominating through resolute defending and exploding on the counter before taking their chances.
While they have improved with each passing game, they’re still yet to produce their best, but perhaps they won’t even need to in order to capture their second World Cup.
Right now, France look like champions, only through assuredness rather than arrogance.
DANCE AUDITION TO REPLACE RONALDO
Eden Hazard and Kylian Mbappe’s ears may have been burning with the news of Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Juventus but it was their feet on fire in Saint Petersburg.
Indeed, a teasing tango between the pair provided a fascinating sub-plot to a game of the highest quality with each pirouette and twirl whipping up the revolutions of Real Madrid’s rumour mill.
And above the No10 of their shirts sat twin eights, because although they were separated by the scoreline, it was difficult to mark their dazzling dances differently.
Mbappe was balletic.
It’s hard to comprehend – especially with the added context of him not even being alive in 1998 – that he is still a teenager because entwined with his searing speed and filthy footwork, is intelligence.
The boy beat a man, or two, or three, but then made impressive passes into the channels or across the pitch. That type of decision making comes with years of experience but then speed hallmarks this special talent so is it any surprise he’s quicker than most?
The 19-year-old is pure entertainment and before we collectively haul him down with pressure of emerging as one of the world’s best, let’s enjoy the turn and flicks like the one he produced to play in Olivier Giroud.
Perhaps Neymar harbours hope his Paris Saint-Germain team-mate does leave so he can get out of his shadow but then Hazard will also be in Madrid’s mind.
Mbappe’s seven dribbles were only beaten by one other player as Hazard shimmied his way to 10 successful take-ons – for a second consecutive game.
The Belgian was utterly brilliant on the ball, no assist or goal was necessary to fortify a superb display.
He led with flair and attitude and was his side’s best player. Mbappe was France’s so there’s a degree of satire in the game being decided by the head of a centre-back from a corner. But neither Chelsea or PSG will be laughing as alarm bells will be ringing from their blazing displays.
DIFFERENT NUMBERS TELL GIROUD’S STORY
“If we are World Cup champions without me scoring, I don’t mind.”
France frontman Olivier Giroud may well be right with what he said in the build-up to the Belgium clash because he stretched his peculiar statistic of attempting the most shots (13) without hitting the target once.
According to Opta, he is the only one of 84 players to have attempted six or more shots in the tournament and failed to hit the target with one. But in his case, the appropriate numbers don’t tell the story.
Giroud has been contributing big time – emphasis on ‘big’ – for Deschamps. Yes he did butcher his opportunities, ruining what would have been a magical assist from Mbappe, but what he did defensively was superb.
Time and time again he was in his own half, winning headers (three), making tackles (three), clearances (two) and interceptions (one).
It’s not what you would ordinarily require from your No9 but then with the attacking thrust provided by Mbappe and Griezmann, it’s an invaluable role he’s filling.