France’s dominant defense will take some breaching, that and four other lessons from Les Bleus beating of Belgium

Samuel Umtiti runs away in delight after scoring the winner in Saint Petersburg.
Updated 12 July 2018
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France’s dominant defense will take some breaching, that and four other lessons from Les Bleus beating of Belgium

  • Les Bleus showed some inner steel in 1-0 win over Belgium
  • Pain for Golden Generation of Belgian footballers still searching for their first final.

Thanks to Samuel Umtiti’s header, France made it through to their third World Cup final in 20 years. The semifinal clash against Belgium was well-fought and enthralling, despite the lack of goals. Here is what we learned when Les Bleus defeated their neighbors.

FRANCE WILL TAKE SOME BEATING

No doubt Belgium made Les Bleus look beatable, but the French definitely went up a gear against Eden Hazard and Co. compared to their underwhelming performance against Uruguay in the last-eight. They looked more dangerous in attack — Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe all posed a constant threat to the Belgium backline — while Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante looked in control throughout, Pogba in particular has got better with every match. But it was the France defense that really shone in Saint Petersburg.
Belgium for all their dominance of possession, for all the threat they posed until the final whistle, never really got a sniff of a clear-cut chance. Led by an imperious Raphael Varane, they neutralized Belgium’s much-hyped attack to record a fourth cleansheet in six matches so far. For all of the justified hype about Mbappe (see right) their opponents on Sunday should probably worry more about how they will score against Varane and Co..

SET-PIECE PRACTISE MAKES PERFECT

This tournament has been jam-packed with drama, great matches, last-minute winners and shocks. But in terms of great goals the Russia tournament has probably been a bit low on jaw-dropping feats of net-busting ability. In turn we have seen set-pieces dominate, and for all the attacking verve and talent the two teams put out on Tuesday, it was only a headed goal from a corner that separated them. It was the 67th set-piece goal scored at this tournament out of 158 (before last night’s Croatia vs England semifinal) and underlined that for all the desire to be entertained and thrilled it tends to be the hard work on the training ground that wins matches rather than moments of magic. The France-Belgium clash illustrated that perfectly, not only with the set-piece winner but with Les Bleus’ brilliant, controlled performance that was far more incisive than it was inspirational.

MBAPPE IS ALREADY THE REAL DEAL

His two-goal masterpiece against Argentina announced him to be a global star (if someone who has already been sold for $210 million actually needs announcing to the world…) but Mbappe’s performance against the Belgians was, if anything more impressive. We knew all about his pace and and goal-scoring potential, but in the city of former Russian Emperors and Empresses he looked regal in possession, displaying a maturity that should be well beyond an 18-year-old. Time and again, on top of worrying Belgium with his pace and power, Mbappe played brilliant ball after brilliant ball — his back heel flick to Giroud the headline act of a commanding performance. That he did not score and was still clearly the best player on the pitch says a lot and suggests there is a lot more to come from the fantastic Frenchman.

THIS BELGIUM GENERATION IS STILL GOLDEN

The one side that came into the tournament with the dreaded label “golden generation” attached to it was poor Belgium. But unlike previous golden generations (England in the early to mid-Noughties) this was a moniker that was well deserved. Belgium have scored, so far at least, the most goals in Russia, and been the most entertaining to boot.
They attacked at pace and without the shackles placed on other more defensively-minded sides and in Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne had the best attacking trio of the tournament. The thing with tournaments is that there can only ever be one winner, Belgium got as far as the last-four, fell to a very good France side and in that there can be no accusations of choking or not being good enough.

OLIVER GIROUD STILL STANDS TALL

The big Chelsea striker has his many detractors, at both club and country level. But although Giroud has now had 13 shots in the tournament without finding the target, he is likely to keep his place in the starting XI for the final. Didier Deschamps has been questioned for continuing to play him instead of other attacking talents such as Ousmane Dembele or Thomas Lemar. He may lack goals, but his workrate has made him a firm favorite with Deschamps, and who would rule out the chance of him scoring in Moscow on Sunday?


Finch's century helps fire Australia to eight-wicket win over Pakistan

Updated 23 March 2019
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Finch's century helps fire Australia to eight-wicket win over Pakistan

SHARJAH: Aaron Finch's fine century drove Australia to a convincing eight-wicket win over a new-look Pakistan in the first one-day international on Friday.
The Austraian skipper scored 116 off 135 balls for his 12th one-day international century that helped his team overhaul the 281-run target in 49 overs on a flat Sharjah stadium pitch.
The win gives Australia the lead in the five-match series and has come on the back of their 3-2 series win in India earlier this month.
Finch's match-winning knock overshadowed Haris Sohail's maiden one-day hundred (101 not out) which helped Pakistan to 280-5 in their 50 overs.
The 32-year-old smashed Shoaib Malik for a huge six towards deep mid-wicket to complete his century -- his first since June last year against England at Chester-Le-Street -- off 120 balls.
Finch, who knocked four sixes and eight boundaries, added an innings-building 172 runs for the second wicket with Shaun Marsh who scored an unbeaten 91 off 102 balls with four boundaries and two sixes.
With 46 needed Finch became Mohammad Abbas's maiden wicket but Peter Handscomb hit 30 not out to help Marsh cross the line.
Finch and Marsh came together after opener Usman Khawaja fell for 24 to medium pacer Faheem Ashraf, the only other success Pakistan's new-look bowling attack could achieve.
Pakistan rested six of their key players including regular skipper Sarfraz Ahmed in order to keep them fresh for the World Cup starting in UK from May 30.
But the young and inexperienced Pakistan led by Malik proved no match for Australia, who are on a roll after their win in India earlier this month.
Left-hander Sohail, who reached 1,000 runs in his 27th one-day international when on 40, anchored Pakistan's innings, adding 98 for the third wicket with Umar Akmal who made a 50-ball 48 in his first international match for two years.
Sohail took a single to complete his hundred in the last over, finishing with six boundaries and a six.
Pakistan had handed one-day debuts to opener Shan Masood and Abbas -- who have played 15 and 14 Tests respectively.
Masood put on 35 in an opening stand with Imam-ul-Haq (17) before off-spinner Nathan Lyon dismissed Imam in the seventh over, caught and bowled.
Masood, who hit five boundaries in his 62-ball 40, was then bowled by paceman Nathan Coulter-Nile who finished with 1-38 in his 10 overs.
Umar smashed three sixes in one Jhye Richardson over but fell one short of his half century.
Malik fell for 11 and Ashraf and Imad Wasim scored 28 each.
Wasim hit four boundaries and a six during his 13-ball unbeaten knock, helping Pakistan to 55 runs in the last five overs.
Sunday's second ODI is also being played in Sharjah, with the third in Abu Dhabi (March 27) and the last two in Dubai (March 29 and 31).