In Tuesday’s semifinal of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, France faces a Belgian side that doesn’t shy away from any trophy-lifting intentions. Both selections have been and continue to be favorites, with many football fans calling this matchup an early final.
Confidently predicting an outcome would be a bold venture. Yet, boldness is what drives this business.
If we were to go by the numbers, Belgium’s domination is deceiving. Defensively, a total of 22 Belgian blocked shots tower over France’s nine. These numbers imply for a sticky situation for France when attacking. Offensively, 32 shots on target have been attempted by the Belgians, with 14 of them having spun on net. France, on the other hand, has landed nine goals out of 20 well aimed shots.
Statistically, Belgium promises to fry the French. However, a closer look at the individual matches in the past two weeks works hint at a more open-ended encounter, maybe even with France seeing the July 15th Final.
Against a modestly built Japanese team, Belgium struggled to collect a winning result in the Round of 16, having to come back from a 0:2 disadvantage. Underestimating the opponent, manager Roberto Martinez went with an easy-going line-up, eventually forcing all of the possible three substitutions to steal qualification from the hopeful Asian side.
This walk on the edge of the cliff exposed a weak face of Belgium. They are team against whom teams can easily create chances, and needs a starting line-up to add goals on the scoreboard.
The same phenomenon was easily seen in the 1:2 win against Brazil in the quarterfinal bout. Brazil was able to create a total of 16 chances, nine of them on target. Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois got his hands on ten of these chances. Renato Augusto’s header in the 76th was one of Brazil’s on-goal chances, while at least three others were off-target but clear open chances, as Brazil crumbled under the pressure of the clock’s ticking. Had it not been for the Brazilian mistakes, Belgium’s defensive line was otherwise almost clueless, and the scoreboard would have shown a different result.
After Fernandinho’s own goal in the 13th minute, Belgium created only three shots on goal, with one of them landing successfully in the 31st minute. Otherwise, they had four shots off target, summing to a total of seven chances created. All that was needed was a pushy defensive line to completely paralyze Belgium’s offense. On Tuesday, French center-backs Raphaël Varane and Samuel Umtiti will pose the same stubborn attitude as Brazil’s Miranda and Thiago Silva.
On the other end of Saint Petersburg Stadium, France will account for a calmer side.
The French promise for a cold-blooded offensive line, where Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappé will have taken notes on the Belgian mistakes from the past two games. Giroud should not be forgotten, as he has served as a great link between the midfield and the forwards.
So far, France has displayed an infatuation with two-goal differentials, as they try to be in a comfortable position. This way, they are able to smile even in a case where the opponent is able to narrow down the scoreboard to a one goal distance.
That demeanor could be easily noticed against Argentina in the Round of 16, as they held the game at 4:2 starting from the 68th minute, and didn’t attempt another shot from that point on. A goal in the 94th by the Argentinians didn’t bother the French side, as all seemed to have gone to plan. The same was seen in their quarterfinal match, when they were able to land two on Uruguayan net (the second in the 61st minute), and left the clock run out to qualify. This strategic calmness accounts for the low numbers mentioned before on offense.
There is room to believe that the French defense will have only one dangerous element; Romelu Lukaku, who was stellar against Brazil. The Belgian striker poses a great risk with his 207 lbs., six-foot-three stature, with speed and agility, against the less aggressive Varrane. A single instance is needed for Lukaku to use his force against the center-back, to then later find the goal.
Nevertheless, France is the strong favorite to be the contributed team to Sunday’s final, as Belgium’s weaknesses could be easily taken advantage of on Tuesday.
Cover photo: vaaju.com
Chadli and Courtois photos: newagebd.net
Griezmann photo: japantoday.com
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