France’s Benchwarmers Are Worth More Than Most Starting Lineups

July 10, 2018

“France enters today’s semifinal match against neighboring Belgium as the favorite to win the 2018 World Cup. At least on paper, though, France has been the least remarkable team of the four that remain: Les Bleus have scored fewer goals than each of the other semifinalists, they’ve possessed less of the ball than two of the other semifinalists, and they’ve taken the fewest shots.” FiveThirtyEight

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Semifinal questions: How do Belgium counter France’s front three? England speed or Croatia possession?

July 10, 2018

“The World Cup has reached the semifinal stage and it’s an all-European affair, with France facing Belgium on Tuesday, followed by Croatia vs. England the following day. Ahead of the final four, here is one key question that each team must answer.” ESPN – Michael Cox


No goals? No problem. Olivier Giroud’s mission to supply France with glory

July 10, 2018

“Can France win the World Cup with a centre-forward who fails to score a goal? Olivier Giroud has yet to get off the mark in 412 minutes of football spread across five appearances at these finals but his name will be among the first on the France teamsheet for Tuesday’s semi-final against Belgium and neither player nor manager is losing any sleep about his drought continuing.” Guardian


Neymar Can’t Quite Copy Cruyff, Football Might Really Be Coming Home, and More Takeaways From the World Cup Quarterfinals

July 8, 2018


1. European dominance continues. When Germany won the 2014 World Cup, it was the first time any continent had produced three-straight World Cup winners. And after the elimination of Brazil and Uruguay on Friday, that streak will now extend to four. In 2002, it seemed like we might be seeing a challenge to world soccer’s established hierarchy. Senegal and the United States both made the quarterfinals, while South Korea and Turkey both advanced to the semifinals. Of course, it ended with Brazil and Germany, the two all-time great soccer-playing nations, in the final, but even that was something of a surprise, as they were ranked 11th and 10th, respectively, in the pre-tournament Elo Ratings.” The Ringer (Video)


Tactical Analysis: Brazil 1-2 Belgium | Belgium Nick a Fortunate Win Through Decisive Counter-Attacks

July 8, 2018

“Brazil entered the 2018 World Cup as one of the favorites thanks to their athletic and/or defensively astute central midfielders Casemiro, Paulinho, and Fernandinho, and the fearsome left-sided trio of Marcelo, Coutinho, and Neymar. Understanding the threat the latter threesome posed, Belgium manager Roberto Martínez instructed his side to overload the right section of their midfield. This ploy forced the three tricksters to play through clogged spaces or switch play to the under-supported Willian. Eventually, the difficulty of building these types of attacks led to losses of possession that Belgium looked to convert into dangerous counter-attacks; Hazard and Lukaku led the way in this department with their dribbling, hold-up play, and aerial duels. This strategy, along with a handy own goal, provided Belgium with a two-goal cushion – something they held onto for dear life as Tite’s second half adjustments allowed Brazil to created chance after chance in a valiant losing effort.” Outside of the Boot (Video)


Eden Hazard’s World Cup brilliance could have long-term consequences

July 7, 2018

“There was a moment late in Belgium’s win over Brazil on Friday when Eden Hazard led a break. He charged into the opposition half, turned back inside and, as runners went by him, taking defenders with them, space opened up for a pass out to the left to the substitute Youri Tielemans. There was an overlap, a chance of a third goal that would have finished the game. Hazard saw it. He tried to play it. But his legs, for once, did not obey. The ball set off in the right direction but with nothing like enough pace; Marcelo intercepted. Hazard had essentially been too exhausted to pass a ball 40 yards. Like the rest of the team, he was spent.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Romelu Lukaku gives Belgium clue to solving mystery of beating Brazil

July 6, 2018


“After all that there was no need for Belgium to be so coy. Roberto Martínez and his team had talked their way into this quarter-final like underdogs, twirling in deference to the extent that it seemed fair to wonder whether they might at least simulate a little swagger. But who needs to strut around when they can play some of the most dynamic, coruscating counterattacking international football in years? And who needs to parade on to the pitch when they have prepared to effect the kind of victory that might define a generation’s work? They lined up with a plan and it has taken them to within two games of a title that would make good every prediction, every breathless think-piece, every confident statement about Europe’s emerging force of the decade. Now Belgium, for all their false dawns, have at last found their level. On the eve of the game Romelu Lukaku had puffed out his cheeks and made a show of having to think very hard indeed about any possible weaknesses Brazil held.” Guardian

Brazil knocked out of World Cup by Kevin De Bruyne and brilliant Belgium
“In years to come, when this stadium is a crumbling white elephant, they will sit in almost empty stands, hear the wind whisper across the marsh that surrounds it and believe what they hear is the ghosts of giants. In three games, Kazan has claimed the winners of 11 World Cups. First Germany went, insipid against South Korea. Then, in a full-blooded epic, Argentina were blown away by France. And then fell the biggest of them all, Brazil, outwitted and outbattled by Belgium, who will face France in Tuesday’s semi-final. Brazil had chances. A few ricochets in the box did not fall their way.” Guardian

Brazil sent packing: Kevin De Bruyne’s magic fires up Belgium to knock Selecao out of World Cup
“Great World Cup games can be the epic comeback tale and others, like this one, are about how one team stands firm in the gale of a relentless attacking force, although quite how Belgium hung on to reach the semi-finals and send Brazil home they may never know. It was another Russia 2018 classic, featuring a Belgium side who plundered two goals against their famous opposition twice in the first 32 minutes after which the men in the yellow shirts would spend the next hour in thrilling perpetual chase. Led by their little general Philippe Coutinho, and perhaps with a little longer at their disposal, it would have been Brazil in the semi-final against France in St Petersburg on Tuesday. But instead the last South American side are out, beaten by the shrewdness of Kevin De Bruyne on the counter-attack and Marouane Fellaini and his fellow midfield sentry Axel Witsel, the two unmistakeable guardogs of this Belgium team. This was the golden generation of Belgium against a country where every generation is golden, and the great attacking talent of De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku prevailed.” Telegraph

Thibaut Courtois’ Elastic Limbs Carry Belgium Into the World Cup Semifinals
“Belgium leaped out to a two-goal lead thanks to a Brazilian own goal and a surgical first-half counter from its front three of Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, and Kevin De Bruyne. It held on to upset Brazil 2–1 thanks to its star goalkeeper, the elastic ectomorph Thibaut Courtois. Courtois stands 6-foot-5, with most of that length apparently in his neck and shins. When he stands in goal, his wingspan looks nearly infinite. Never has a real human looked more capable of stretching his limbs in the Mr. Fantastic/Elastigirl manner.” Slate