Published: Wed, July 11, 2018
Life&Culture | By Sue Mclaughlin

Belgium denied by 'small margins' in France defeat, says Martinez

Belgium denied by 'small margins' in France defeat, says Martinez

France are through to the World Cup final after they beat Belgium 1-0 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

What's next: The victor will face the victor of England and Croatia in the World Cup final Sunday in Moscow.

France will be at full strength ahead of this game. Les Bleus topped Group C without really convincing, but knockout-stage wins over Argentina and Uruguay have enhanced their credentials as serious contenders.

Lloris is the captain and he played a key role against Belgium, diving to his right midway through the first half to claw away Toby Alderweireld's shot and then getting in front of Lukaku to punch away one of substitute Dries Mertens' many crosses.

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Meanwhile, Martinez, who, it should be noted, is on the same staff with Henry, said that when he signed up to succeed Marc Wilmots after Belgium's quarterfinal clunk of Euro 2016, his staff of 12 years lacked only what Henry has brought.

France and Belgium are seen as the strongest teams left in the competition, which means the victor of Tuesday's match will head into the final as favourites to be crowned world champions.

Umtiti's victor against Belgium was only his third goal for France.

Long considered the a lesser footballing nation than its neighbour the Netherlands - whose orange-clad teams have reached three World Cup finals and lost them all - this Belgium team has at least dispelled the Dutch shadow.

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Here, however, the simplicity and the pragmatic approach of France - the birthplace of the Gallic hero - proved effective as Deschamps' men subdued their neighbour's complex threat to secure a place in the World Cup final for the first time since 2006 - when a Zinedine Zidane head-butt had cost France dear.

Despite having won 123 caps for France, Henry's sights this week have been firmly set on knocking out the country of his birth, and helping his employers take the unprecedented step of reaching a World Cup final.

When Eden Hazard cut down the left flank and sent in a cross into the box in the sixth minute, the ball was met with a panicky clearance from the French backline. This means that the club will have at least one representative in the 2018 FIFA World Cup final.

Eden Hazard is one of the French academy system's finest exports in the past decade but he could be the man to end Didier Deschamps's bid for World Cup glory.

"When Deschamps took off Giroud to bring on N'Zonzi, then Pogba had more freedom but had freedom not to do silly things, he had freedom to keep the ball away from unsafe areas, to keep the ball, to assist Griezmann for a great chance, he was very very mature".

Add the two goals that Japan scored against them, France might just have the edge in this regard. The winners of each semifinal will meet in the World Cup 2018 championship game, set to kick off on Sunday, July 15.

Right at the conclusion of the first half, Romelu Lukaku - bottled up by Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti for much of match - had a moment of luck as the latter bungled a clearance from a de Bruyne cross, the Belgian attacker though was too perplexed to react.

Umtiti rose brilliantly to shrug off Marouane Fellaini and head in Antoine Griezmann's corner for his first goal of the tournament.

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