Right from the onset, Kylian Mbappe, the young breakout star of the tournament thus far, made his presence felt for France. The 19-year old forward took off on a sprint up the right side off the opening whistle to start the first of two World Cup 2018 semifinals matches. His speed was a problem immediately, and while his resulting cross into the box was dealt with by Belgium, it showed that France had no problem turning their young phenom loose as they did against Argentina in their Round of 16 victory.
While Mbappe got things going immediately out of the gates for France, Belgium settled in nicely and put together some quality possession during the early stages of the match. Eden Hazard, the Belgium captain was able to send in a dangerous ball from the left for Lukaku in the middle, but it was deflected out for a corner by France. None-the-less the early threat in the 6' put France on notice that they better be ready to deal with Hazard and his play-making ability.
Belgium proved to be very patient in their approach over the first 15' of the match, but most of the possession occurred in the middle third pitch, mostly on the French side, but comfortably outside of the last third. As the match settled in, it appeared that France was content without the ball, comfortable to sit back and then look for quick-strike opportunities from their playmakers.
A few moments later, Belgium got a good push into the back third and a beautiful little flick from De Bruyne to Hazard setup the Belgian captain with a great look from the box, but his effort was wide of the far post. It was a great early look for the Belgians, thanks to the wonderful touch from De Bruyne. Hazard appeared to rush the shot just a tad, as he didn't realize he had a bit more time to work with than he thought.
The next few minutes of the match brought continued action as both sides saw decent opportunities to strike first. First it was Matuidi in the 18' firing a hummer from distance with his left foot, but Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois was in good position and he dealt with it nicely, as he was able to knock it down and curtail the effort. Just a minute later, it was Hazard again, this time hitting one from close range with power but it was deflected away barely over the bar. It was an excellent chance from close-range, and one that Belgium would love to have again.
As the first half continued on, Marouane Fellaini, the big 6'4" midfielder for Belgium, started causing some problems for France in the box. He was drifting farther forward and joining in the attack more and more, and his ability in the box led to a corner for Belgium in the 21'. The ball fell to Belgium in the box, and a laser of an effort appeared to be heading in to the far post, but Lloris made an incredible save for France. The French keeper saw it late as the shot came through traffic in the box, and he was able to just get a hand to it at full-stretch for a fantastic save. That save would be one to remember as the match went on, as Lloris showed why he has been the French keeper for the past 9 years and been behind goal in 5 major tournaments for Les Bleus.
Following France's first corner in the 25' the match slowed a bit as the opening half wore-on. A rare mis-handle by De Bruyne in the Belgium half in the 34' led to a run from Mbappe as he received a lofted ball into the Belgium box and then sent a perfect touch across the box to Giroud, who had a great look at goal, but he went to the ground and his effort trickled away wide of goal. It was a golden opportunity for the French as they started to get it going a bit.
Then, just a few moments later, it was Mbappe yet again with a great give and go with Pavard as he slipped one into the box behind the Belgian defender to Pavard and he had a great look from close-range, but Courtois was once again up to the task for Belgium as he made an incredible kick-save to thwart what looked to be the first goal of the match.
By this point, it was clear that France had made some tweaks in the mid-field, adjusting how they rotated and it was making a difference in the game after Belgium came out strong. They were able to turn Belgium away again and force another turnover that led to one more chance before halftime as Griezmann stepped up to deliver a free kick from close range in the 44'. He'd already been dangerous from that range off free-kicks in this tournament, but this time his effort was right into the Belgian wall and then his follow-up pass was too strong into the box and went out for a goal-kick.
A tight and tense first half came to an end with the 0-0 scoreline in tact as both sides had a couple of good opportunities, but overall, neither side took too many chances. Belgium controlled possession, but France had a substantial advantage in shots taken. The big question heading into the locker room was whether a hobbled Olivier Giroud would be able to continue for France after suffering an injury in the 37' that plagued him for the remainder of the half.
Giroud was ready to go after getting some half-time treatment, and France avoided having to sub-out one of their key players early in the match. As the second half got going, France came out looking to build off of how they ended the first half, and in the 51' they won their first corner after the intermission.
Griezmann curled a cross toward the near post from the corner, and Samuel Umtiti was there to rise above Fellaini and catch a glancing header that took a slight touch off of both the defender and himself, and in to give the French the lead at 1-0. No one covered the near post for Belgium, and all it took was a slight glance off the head of Umtiti to send it in from close-range. There was no hope for Courtois as Belgium needed to do a better job of covering the near post.
The breakthrough gave France the lead and fueled Belgium to be more assertive on the offensive-end. That led to Lukaku finally getting a decent look a few minutes later in the 61', but Lloris was able to punch it away following a nice feed in from De Bruyne.
Belgium brought on Dries Mertens in the 60' hoping to spark more action into the box for Belgium, and he immediately made his impact on the match as he fed cross after cross into the box. From the 69'-71' Belgium were able to continually send excellent crosses into the area, but France answered with equally good defense to turn them away each time.
France got away with one in the 80' as Belgium began to run out of time. Hazard again was going to work from the left side and as he worked a yard outside of the corner of the box, he was taken down. The referee was right there and signaled play-on, even though replays showed it to be a clear foul. It was a great take up the pitch by Hazard, as Belgium looked to press ever-more for their equalizer.
Just a minute later, it was Witsel this time who got a great shot on goal for Belgium. He fired from distance and his humming effort was dealt with by Lloris, who put a strong punch to the ball as it was bending away from him. It was a great effort by Witsel, and could have easily brought the match even, had it not been for a superb save once again from Lloris. Hazard was taken down just outside of the box moments before Witsel got off his attempt on what appeared to be another foul, but yet again, no foul was given and play resumed on.
Then in the 87', this time Hazard was brought down and the foul was called. He won the call as it was a no doubt foul that brought a yellow card for Konte. De Bruyne stepped up to the spot for the free kick as Belgium poured everyone forward into the box, sensing that this may one of their last, best opportunities to finally draw even. De Bruyne struck a nice cross into the box, and it bounced around for a moment before it was cleared out and the threat was once again turned away by France.
Due to multiple injuries, Belgium found themselves with 6' of injury time to work with to come up with the goal needed to send the game to extra-time, but the French proved to be masters of time-wasting. They were able to win a free kick in the 90'+1' and were able to waste away about a minute of time, and then after losing the ball along the sideline, Mbappe took off with the ball as he was clearly wasting time and received a yellow card for his efforts. Belgium could not get anything substantial going, however, and it took another fine save from Courtois as Griezmann got free in the Belgium box to keep the deficit at 1, as France had what appeared to be an open shot to put the match away.
Nothing came of one last effort from Belgium, and Mbappe was able to get up the sideline and receive a through-pass in the 94'. This time, the young speedster put the brakes on to make sure that France would hang-on to possession and waste the clock. It led to another shot on goal from France, and the ensuing corner proved to be enough to run out the remainder of injury time and send France to the Final for the third time overall and first time since 2006.
France will be looking for their second World Cup Title after hoisting the trophy on home soil in 1998. Head man Didier Deschamps was the captain of that French squad, and he now has the opportunity to raise the trophy once again, this time as head coach. France's defensive prowess and the play of Kante, Griezmann, Mbappe, and Giroud in particular were key for Les Bleus. As for Belgium, they struggled to get Lukaku going at all in the middle as he was held in-check by the French back-line, and they will be left to think about several early efforts that were oh-so-close but ultimately turned away by Lloris, who may have been the man of the match. While Belgium owned the significant advantage in possession (64-36), it was France who out-shot the Belgians 19-9. Hats off to Deschamps who made the necessary adjustments to his midfield in the first half as France looked solid all-the-way-around. They will be a tough task for the winner of England-Croatia as they have displayed a penchant to not beat themselves, while their young playmakers seem to be coming of age at the perfect time.
Thank you for following @steemsports and you can find me @thesportsguy