I stared at the team sheets on my Twitter feed. France, as expected went with their expected starting lineup. Matuidi returned to strengthen the squad after his suspension. I looked up at the Belgium lineup and wow, it did look odd. Dembele thrusted into midfield, Chadli thrown to the right, De Bruyne to the left. It seemed so not along the lines of what we have been seeing throughout the tournament.
Belgium started strongly, confident, while France looked nervy. Most of the play was centered around the France half, with Hazard coming real close with one early cut in. But the pattern was obvious. France was gonna let Belgium play keep ball and work quickly on the counter using lightning Mbappe.
It is the semifinal. Everybody plays their heart out. Each and every player of both teams gave it. But some were somehow not feeling their way in. Dembele was struggling in the centre. Careless short passes, caught in possession. As the half came to a close, it was becoming evident that Dembele was a liability.
However Martinez opted to keep things the same way as they restarted the second half. What backfired though was that they conceded in a set piece. Which could happen pretty much to either team. This invigorated France who solidified their defending, working only to attack on the break. Plan B from Martinez was to cancel failed plan A at 60 minutes, and rewind to Mertens. Instant impact in the box and he started whipping crosses like he missed this game till then. Somehow Lukaku struggled as there continued to be immense pressure around him from the solid French defence.
For long periods of time, Deschamps had his tactics perfectly sorted to deal with any form of threat the Red Devils threw at them. Some of the one touch passing from the front line of France was simply insatiable.
It was unbecoming that a team that was the shining light of this tournament had to depart at the penultimate step, but France definitely looked mature and worthy of being at Moscow for the final.