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Saturday, 17 November, 2018

France thwart Belgium to reach World Cup final

Lack of depth costs Belgium

Samuel Umtiti nods France into the final
1 of 1

France 1
Umtiti 50
Belgium 0

Three things we learned...

1 Deschamps is winning the tactical battles
Didier Deschamps has taken a lot of stick during his six years in charge of the France team but he got his tactics spot on in Saint Petersburg to overcome a Belgium team packed with talented individuals.

It was a tight game but France deservedly won because they were much better without the ball.

Raphael Varane was the pick of four excellent defenders and N'Golo Kante did his usual sterling work just in front.

But it was a real team effort with Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi and all of the front three - Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud and Kylian Mbappe - working tirelessly to deny Belgium the necessary time and space to create clear cut chances.

With the ball France were far less impressive but they were always a threat on the counter-attack and became much more dangerous when Belgium had to chase the game.

Mbappe was the star man in an impressive second-half performance but it was a real team effort from a side, who showed why they went into the semi-finals as favourites for World Cup glory.

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2 Lack of depth costs Belgium
It was a tough challenge for Belgium and manager Roberto Martinez, whose options were limited by the suspension to Thomas Meunier.

The absence of their regular right back promoted a major tactical rethink because Belgium did not have a like for like replacement.

Nacer Chadli did reasonably well as an unorthodox right back but the midfield didn't look quite right with Mousa Dembele struggling in only his second start of the tournament.

There was always the chance that a moment of Eden Hazard or Kevin De Bruyne magic would get them out of trouble but Martinez's decision to substitute Fellaini was a strange one because the Manchester United midfielder had a decent game and looked as likely as any Belgian to grab an equaliser.

Plenty of Belgian players - notably Thibaut Courtois and Vincent Kompany - had excellent games but there were a few weak links and their overall lack of depth was exposed.

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3 Lack of creativity is France's main weakness
France excelled after going in front but they were not particularly impressive in the opening 50 minutes, demonstrating a lack of craft and creativity as they struggled to prise open a strong Belgium defence.

Belgium played in more controlled fashion early on - sitting deeper and denying space for Griezmann and Mbappe to run into.

France's main aim was to play into and around Giroud but the Chelsea man looked short of confidence and wasted an excellent chance just before half-time.

Giroud's frustration was growing and he looked a relieved man when France edged ahead.

France looked an accomplished side when leading from the front but it would be interesting to see how they cope if they fall behind on Sunday.

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It was a tight game but France deservedly won it because they were much better without the ball
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