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Dublin: 4 °C Tuesday 11 December, 2018
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Hello! And welcome to our live coverage of this evening’s World Cup semi-final between France and Belgium at the Saint Petersburg Stadium.

It’s honestly a bit difficult coming to terms with the idea that the World Cup is going to be over soon. It’s been absolutely brilliant, with so many thrills, spills, scalps, upsets and VAR-related talking points to keep us gripped over the last three weeks.

But alas, we’ve reached the penultimate stage, with two intriguing semi-finals to keep our appetites satisfied over the next two evenings.

Tonight is the first of two all-European semi-finals as the only pre-tournament favourites remaining, France and Belgium, clash for a final spot against overachievers England or Croatia.

Neither of tonight’s sides have looked completely unbeatable, and both have shown flaws despite successful passages to the final four.

France were slow to get going in the group stages, but thrilled with their dramatic 4-3 win over Argentina and have looked strong and commanding ever since.

Belgium, meanwhile, teetered on the brink of elimination in the last 16.

Japan led Roberto Martinez’s men 2-0 just a couple of weeks ago, with a stunning second-half comeback showing all of us what Belgium are capable of before they only went and dumped out Brazil.

With superstars like Mbappé, Pogba, Griezmann, De Bruyne, Lukaku and Hazard to boast, tonight’s semi-final should be absolutely enthralling.

Kick-off is just under an hour away at 7pm.

With just 45 minutes to go before kick-off, who’s going to book their place in the 2018 World Cup final tonight? Let us know below!


Poll Results:




Let’s get started with the team news…

So, this evening’s teams are:

France: Lloris; Pavard, Varane, Umtiti, Hernandez; Kanté, Pogba, Matuidi; Mbapé, Giroud, Griezmann

Subs: Mandanda, Areola, Kimpembe, Rami, Tolisso, Sidibé, Mendy, Lemar, Nzonzi, Thauvain, Dembélé, Fekir

Belgium: Courtois; Chadli, Alderweireld, Kompany, Vertonghen; Witsel, Dembélé, Fellaini; Hazard, Lukaku, De Bruyne

Subs: Migonlet, Casteels, Vermaelen, Boyata, Carrasco, Mertens, T Hazard, Tielemans, Januzaj, Dendocnker, Batshuayi

Didier Deschamps has made just one change from the side which beat Uruguay, Blaise Matuidi returning from suspension to replace Corentin Tolisso.

For Belgium, Nacer Chadli comes in for Thomas Meunier, with Roberto Martinez tinkering with a strange lineup which could be interpreted either as a back four with Jan Vertonghen at left-back, or a back three with Chaldi at wingback.

Belgium v France: Semi Final - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Source: Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA

Belgium v France: Semi Final - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

Belgium v France: Semi Final - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

It is genuinely a bit sad that the World Cup is coming to a close after four weeks of brilliant action, but at the very least it means the end of that intolerable Hyundai advert with Maroon 5. It’s honestly like fingernails on a chalkboard at this stage. Good riddance.

But back to the football. Our poll points towards Belgium as slight favourites tonight, however it is still quite close. On the basis of each team’s performances after five games you can’t say there’s much between them.

Both have an abundance of riches at their disposal — particularly in attack. But at the same time neither has looked completely without flaw.

France well and truly failed to inspire during the group stages, with their 0-0 draw with Denmark arguably the worst game of the competition.

In that game they looked devoid of any ingenuity or motivation, but on the other end of the spectrum Deschamps’ men looked like complete and utter world beaters in their 4-3 victory over Argentina.

Now, it may be a case that Jorge Sampaoli’s side were so dismal in defence they made France look better than they were, but even with that taken into account, players like Kylian Mbappé and Paul Pogba put in incredible displays the hallmark of champions.

Belgium, meanwhile, are also unbeaten. Roberto Martinez’s men have five wins from five — scoring 11 goals at the World Cup so far while conceding five.

In Romelu Lukaku they have a potential Golden Boot winner, while in Kevin De Bruyne they have arguably world football’s greatest playmaker.

A team littered with more talent like Eden Hazard, Mousa Dembele and Thibaut Courtois will take some beating this evening, but Martinez’s men showed serious, worrying flaws going two goals down to Japan.

It’s very evenly matched.

He is undoubtedly one of the world’s truly great midfielders at his very best, but has Paul Pogba delivered for France at the World Cup so far?

The national anthems are done and dusted and we’re just about ready to get underway now. Look I don’t want to jinx it, but this really does have the potential to be the game of the tournament. The attacking talent is simply sublime and, according to logic, this should end 7-7 and go to penalties.

2Mins

A half-chance produced right from tip-off sees Kylian Mbappe swerve an inviting cross right into the danger zone. Antoine Griezmann didn’t seem quite on the same wavelength as Toby Alderweireld happily boots the ball away to relieve the early pressure.

5Mins

Some really bright, sprightly play from Belgium tinkering on the edge of the France penalty area now. Eden Hazard turns on the afterburners down the right wing before fizzing a low cross towards the front post. Benjamin Pavard takes absolutely no chances and slides it away for a corner kick, a corner kick which Hazard balloons across the box to no-one, and to no-where. What a waste.

9Mins

France produce their first real attack of the game so far as the double-team of Pogba and Griezmann surge forward together right through the heart of Belgium’s midfield. The ball is ushered out wide left towards Lucas Hernandez, but the defender’s meek cross is hacked away quite easily. A decent chance.

14Mins

Almost! A brilliant chance almost comes the way of 19-year-old Mbappe as a killer through ball from the right boot of Pogba almost finds the forward behind enemy lines. Thibaut Courtois read the danger immediately though, and raced from his line to collect possession just inside his box. Mbappe’s speed is simply incredible.

16Mins

Shot! Yeeeesh that was close. Eden Hazard collects possession inside the box and let’s fly with a left-footed drive which nearly crawls into the bottom corner. Hazard did really well to fend off the challenge of Chelsea team-mate N’Golo Kante, but his effort just didn’t have the accuracy to find the back of the net. Great play, nevertheless.

18Mins

Blaise Matuidi has a go of his own at the other end. A half-volley bounces up invitingly, the midfielder makes a good connection on his effort, but it drives right into the arms of Courtois between the sticks. Either side of the goalkeeper and that was a certain goal.

20Mins

Chances flying in left, right and centre now. Hazard has another go and, but for a last-ditch header from Raphael Varane to deflect it over the bar, it looked all but destined for the top corner. I’m not sure Hugo Lloris had that covered and he certainly has his defender to thank.

23Mins

Save! And what a save! Belgium must have thought they were ahead as Alderweireld arrowed a slight effort which caught everyone off guard. The defender latched onto a corner which failed to be cleared, dinking a shot towards the top corner before Lloris sprang across his line with cat-like reflexes — clawing the ball away from danger with incredible athleticism. Sublime goalkeeping to keep the game level.

28Mins

De Bruyne with another pinpoint cross into the box which Umtiti has to boot clear. It was in the perfect area to be poked in from close range by Lukaku, but the Barcelona defender was perfectly positioned to read the danger and make his clearance.

32Mins

Pavard curls a dangerous cross into the box. Olivier Giroud does really well to get out in front of his marker and let fly with a meaty header, but his powerful effort is a bit aimless and flies comfortably wide of Courtois’ post.

35Mins

Chanceeeeee! Oh goodness, France really ought to be ahead. A brilliant combination sees Griezmann float a through ball behind enemy lines, before Mbappe responds by flashing the ball right into the mixer for Giroud.

The Chelsea forward has the ball right in front of him and all he has to do is boot it into the back of the net, but — to use the technical term — he bloody bottles it and scuffs a poor effort wide of the post.

38Mins

40Mins

Pavard close once again. The defender is played clean through inside the box following a brilliant pass from Mbappe, but instead of feeding the ball towards a team-mate he decides to have a go at goal himself. The angle is tricky, and Pavard’s strike produces a great low save from Courtois to keep his side in this. France with some really nice football on the eye over the last 20 minutes, it has to be said.

45Mins

A free-kick in a really promising position for France as half-time looms. Paul Pogba was dragged to the floor by Mousa Dembele, but Griezmanns’s subsequent effort from 25 yards slams into the wall harmlessly. A poor effort.

45Mins

There will be just one minute of stoppage time to come at the end of the first half.

47Mins

Romelu Lukaku with the second-half’s first chance. The Man United striker beats Raphael Varane to a cross swung deep into the box, but his header flies well over the target. A strong start from Belgium.

49Mins

There are an usually large number of empty seats.

58Mins

GOOOOOOOOOAL! We have liftoff in this semi-final as this game finally springs into life – Samuel Umtiti giving France the lead with a pinpoint header. The Barcelona defender peeled away at the front post and did superbly to meet Antoine Griezmann’s corner kick with a driving effort which flew past Courtois. It’s first blood to France!

58Mins

France ended the first half on top and have replicated that form after the break. Another chance, and then another comes storming on the counter attack. Belgium are at sixes and sevens in defence, with a pair of shots courtesy of Olivier Giroud nearly doubling his side’s lead. Didier Deschamps men are in complete control right now.

60Mins

Substitution: Dries Mertens replaces Mousa Dembele for Belgium.

Belgium Portraits - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Source: David Ramos - FIFA

62Mins

Belgium fashion a chance as they go in desperate search of an equaliser here. A neat overlap sees Kevin De Bruyne have a go at goal from close-range, but Hugo Lloris manages to save the effort with a save pair of hands. His side are under just a little bit of pressure now.

64Mins

Eden Hazard is shown a yellow card as France threaten with another one of their lightening-quick counter-attacks. The Chelsea forward stops the break at its source — cynically pulling Blaise Matuidi to the floor in midfield — and he is in the referee’s book as a result of his foul.

66Mins

Chance! Marouane Fellaini meets a cross inside the box, but his header flies a matter of inches wide of the bottom corner. It looked to have Lloris beaten, but it just lacked the accuracy to creep in the right side of the post.

68Mins

France break at the other end with speed and precision down the right flank. The ball is cut back invitingly for Griezmann, but the Atletico forward blasts a dreadful effort spinning over the crossbar.

70Mins

A little over 20 minutes for Belgium to try and save this semi-final. They did it against Japan, but France are undoubtedly a tougher and more defensively disciplined line of opposition. Raphael Varane has had an assured performance all evening and is doing really well at keeping Romelu Lukaku’s chances to a minimum.

75Mins

79Mins

Belgium pushing and probing but France are doing really well at bringing this game’s speed down to a slow, patient meandering pace. It’s hard to believe there’s just 10 minutes remaining, solely due to the fact that Roberto Martinez’s men have more or less let this half sleepily pass them by.

82Mins

Danger for France as Lloris horribly spills a long-range effort from Axel Witsel. Nobody could manage to force a rebound while the goalkeeper lay prone on the ground, and that really was a lucky escape for Les Bleus.

88Mins

Chance from a free-kick for Belgium now as Kante cynically fouls Eden Hazard as he tried to dribble through the final third. There’s not a lot of time left, so Kevin De Bruyne needs to make this a pinpoint delivery for his side.

88Mins

De Bruyne lofts the ball into the danger zone but, after the ball bounced and bobbled tentatively inside the box, it’s eventually ushered off to the side of the penalty area and hoofed clear. Containment football from France now as stoppage time looms.

90Mins

90Mins

There will be six minutes of stoppage time to come at the end of the second half.

90Mins

France trying to wear down the clock now as Kylian Mbappe runs into the corner. Frustration growing for Belgium now with just a few minutes remaining for them to try and fashion a late, great leveller.

90Mins

Chance! Griezmann almost wraps up this semi-final as Belgium flood bodies forward and leave gaps at the back. The Atletico forward skipped free on the edge of the box, but his effort was well saved by the low dive of Thibaut Courtois. If Belgium do somehow level here, Griezmann will be absolutely kicking himself he didn’t do better with that opportunity to put this to bed.

90Mins

And another! France really pushing for a second here. Tolisso finds himself in oceans of space a matter of metres out from goal, but his left-footed strike is a poor one and Courtois bats it away. Only a minute to go now.

There we have it! The first finalist of the 2018 World Cup has now been named — it’s France! Didier Deschamps side largely dominated this fairly lax, pedestrian semi-final.

Roberto Martinez’s side never really found the spark they so often promised throughout this competition, with a number of their stars failing to get going in this edgy, tense semi-final.

Samuel Umtiti’s header decides it, and it’s as good a goal if ever to win a World Cup semi-final.

Belgium will now head into Saturday’s third place play-off, while Les Bleus march triumphantly into their first final since 2006.

Thanks a million for joining us, you can read our full report from tonight’s game here!

About the author:

Aaron Gallagher

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