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Are France a great team or the beneficiaries of a below-par World Cup?

Les Bleus will face England or Croatia in the final after defeating Belgium tonight.

France players celebrate.
France players celebrate.
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

ENTERTAINMENT-WISE, IT has been one of the best World Cups in recent memory.

There has no shortage of drama, upsets and exhilarating encounters, not to mention an abundance of contenders for goal of the tournament.

The one thing this World Cup has arguably been lacking is a great team.

France, as one of the finalists, could claim otherwise, though their legacy won’t be secured until Sunday night, when they will come up against either England or Croatia.

There is no doubt that Didier Deschamps’ side have some exceptional players — Hugo Llorois, Kylian Mbappe and N’Golo Kante are among the best players in the world in their respective positions.

And granted, in every World Cup, even the best teams are likely to encounter a stumbling block along the way — four years ago, Germany drew with Ghana in the group stages, while Spain’s 2010 champions lost their opening game to Switzerland.

Yet even allowing for those mishaps, can France (or indeed the other potential winners, England and Croatia) be considered on a par with that Spain team that miraculously managed to win three tournaments in a row, or the formidable Germany side that put seven past Brazil?

Is it even fair to essentially measure greatness based on seven games, matches where luck and so many other factors can come into the equation?

You could also argue that Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’ were somewhat fortunate to have reached the final four.

Had Japan been a little more solid defensively, or if Brazil’s attackers were clinical with their finishing, Roberto Martinez’s side surely would not have made it this far.

And while any team who reach the semi-final of a World Cup deserve credit, there is still a lingering sense that we haven’t seen the best of this Belgium team.

Kevin De Bruyne, one of the two best players in the Premier League last season, had a disappointing game tonight and at times struggles to bring his club form to international level.


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Romelu Lukaku looked formidable against Tunisia and Panama, but has not found the net in the knockout stages, and was a bystander for much of this evening’s game.

And Mousa Dembélé, often superb for Tottenham, showed why he doesn’t always start for his country with an error-prone performance.

France, meanwhile, were solid but unspectacular. It was a result they ground out with impressive defensive discipline and a well-taken goal by Barcelona star Samuel Umtiti.

But even they have been far from scintillating for much of the tournament. Les Bleus laboured to victories over Australia and Peru in the group stages, before taking advantage of a defensively inept and crisis-ridden Argentina, as well as a Uruguay team deprived of arguably their best player, Edinson Cavani.

With the other pre-tournament favourites, Spain, Germany and Brazil, all producing underwhleming displays, the French have capitalised.

But of course, come Sunday, questions of legacy will be far from their mind, with a win — no matter how ugly or unimpressive — all that really matters.

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Paul Fennessy

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