The French looked a different outfit in the second half against the Red Devils.
The first semi-final of the 2018 FIFA World Cup between France and Belgium ended with Les Bleus triumphing 1-0 against the Red Devils. Samuel Umtiti latched onto an Antoine Griezmann corner to win the game for the French.
Roberto Martinez was handicapped from the start with his first-choice right-back, Thomas Meunier missing the game through suspension. So, the Spaniard fielded a back three of Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Vincent Kompany, with Nacer Chadli and Moussa Dembele playing as wing-backs.
France’s main outlet, Kylian Mbappe was pitted against Dembele and he constantly had the beating of his man in the first half. Conversely, Eden Hazard took the game to Benjamin Pavard, who has had a very impressive World Cup so far, in the first half and got himself a couple of chances to threaten the French goal.
Paul Pogba played a very important role for the French with his passing. The 25-year-old stuck close to N’Golo Kante and picked up on his tackles to get his team moving with quick, incisive passes to Mbappe and Griezmann.
Both sides struggled to get their target men into the game in the first half, with the play breaking down in the final thirds of the pitch. Olivier Giroud, who had not had a shot on target all through the tournament, looked like a man lacking in belief in the first half, while Romelu Lukaku was starved of service.
Belgium’s back three drifted into a back four at points when France regained possession with Chadli filling into the right-back position and Marouane Fellaini dropping deep to stick to Pogba. However, The Frenchman got the better of his Manchester United teammate in the second half. Fellaini was ultimately overpowered by Umtiti to give France their goal.
Following the goal, France showed the world a very different side to their game, with a defensive performance that would have made Didier Deschamps proud. Raphael Varane and Umtiti consistently won aerial duels with some of the game’s biggest forwards. Pogba dropped back into a defensive position to keep with his man all game long and won headers at crucial times.
While Belgium did not deserve to lose the game, they paid the price for poor balls in the final third and a lack of the intensity they showed against Brazil, or the clinical finishing they displayed against the Japanese.
Following the victory, France will proceed to their first final since they lost to Italy in 2006. They will be joined by either Croatia or England in an all European showpiece clash.