World Cup Daily: France is equal parts style and grit


After each matchday of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Sportsnet.ca’s World Cup Daily blog will recap the day’s events, and look ahead to the next day’s slate of games.

Here’s what happened on Tuesday, in case you missed it…

THE RESULT

France 1, Belgium 0 in Saint Petersburg: Match report || match stats

MAIN TALKING POINT

Vive Les Bleus!
France has advanced to the World Cup final for the third time in history, its passage through to the title game owing us much to the grit and determination it’s shown as to the silky stylish play they’ve displayed in Russia.

Kylian Mbappé and Antoine Griezmann will quite rightly hog the majority of headlines and media attention. They’ve been absolutely integral to Les Bleus’ run, Mbappé with his blinding pace and acceleration, and his fearlessness in taking on opposing defenders; Griezmann with his goals (a team-high three) and his ability to set others up (two assists). Only England’s Harry Kane (six goals) has been involved in more goals at this World Cup than Griezmann.

But as dangerous and lithe as the French have been going forward, they’ve been even better in defending their goal. Tuesday’s win over Belgium was their fourth clean sheet of the tournament, and a big reason why France’s defence has been so difficult to breach has been because of Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane. Rivals at club level (Umtiti plays for Barcelona, Varane at Real Madrid), they have combined to great effect at this tournament, staking a rightful claim to being the best centre-back duo in international soccer. Varane and Umtiti have also contributed to the attack, with this World Cup marking the first time since 1998 that three French defenders scored in the same tournament – Benjamin Pavard has also found the back of the net for France.

They have been capably abetted by the central midfield pairing of Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, who have served aa the ultimate shield for the French back line. If you want to get past France’s defence, you must first go through Kante and Pogba, and that has proven to be a Herculean task, as Belgium’s wonderful attacking trio of Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne discovered.

Behind all of them has been the steady Hugo Lloris, not the flashiest or most accomplished of goalkeepers, but certainly the best at this competition. The Tottenham shot stopper has routinely made sensational saves when called upon, serving as the ultimate last line of a defence.

The French have been as tough as any side to break down in Russia, and they now stand on the cusp of making amends for their capitulation against Portugal on home soil in the finals of Euro 2016.

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