Talking Points: France 1 Belgium 0 – Attacking rhythm key to success

Talking Points: France 1 Belgium 0 – Attacking rhythm key to success


Samuel Umtiti’s second half header sends Les Bleus to the final at the expense of Belgium.

The Red Devils looked the more potent of the two sides early in the piece, with Didier Deschamps’ team struggling to contain Eden Hazard’s slaloming runs.

Spurs defender Toby Alderweireld was unlucky not to send Belgium ahead after 20 minutes, turning on his heel and firing into the top left corner only to be frustrated by the reach of Hugo Lloris.

Once the half hour mark had passed, Les Bleus settled and Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappé began to impact the match, his outrageous backheel to find Olivier Giroud early in the second half a highlight.

It was a defender that sent France into the lead however, with Samuel Umtiti shaking the close attention of Marouane Fellaini to glance home from a corner at the near post.

Roberto Martinez’s side rallied after the hour but struggled to present any danger with the exception of Hazard’s run and Kevin De Bruyne’s rifled attempts from well outside the area.

The Red Devils’ best chance to level proceedings came as Fellaini made strong contact on a cross from Dries Mertens, but the Manchester United midfielder’s header went to the wrong side of the post.

Les Bleus find attacking rhythm in transition

Up to this point, France averaged fewer shots than any of the remaining sides and were the lowest scorers of the semi-finalists with nine goals in the tournament.

On this occasion Deschamps’ side had 17 attempts on goal, nearly double that of their opponents, and the scoreline may have reflected this dominance had Giroud made the best of his six sharp opportunities.

It should be noted that France recorded just 36% of possession, and neither England nor Croatia are likely to afford so many opportunities to break down their respective defences and score in transition.

Red Devils lacked midfield balance and chemistry

With Fellaini, Axel Witsel and Mousa Dembélé prowling the midfield, Belgium were well covered against a side that sought not to break them down but instead to strike on the counter.

When Umtiti found the net and the onus was on Martinez’s side to score, the potency of Hazard on the counter dipped with N’Golo Kante and Blaise Matuidi protecting the defence.

While he may have been overly mindful of his role in a formation shifting from a back three in possession to a back four out of it, De Bruyne was unable to find space and create meaningful attacking play.

Michy Batshuayi may have helped to unlock Les Bleus defence but saw only five minutes of stoppage time, and substitutions effected change around rather than within the midfield where they may have been most effective.