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

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.


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..


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.


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.


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.


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?

‘Not impossible’ that Formula E will overtake F1, says Felipe Massa ahead of Ad Diriyah race

Updated 15 December 2018

‘Not impossible’ that Formula E will overtake F1, says Felipe Massa ahead of Ad Diriyah race

LONDON: Felipe Massa has acknowledged the possibility of Formula E becoming more popular than its more illustrious rival Formula One, ahead of his debut at the Ad Diriyah E-Prix in Saudi Arabia today.
The Brazilian ace swapped the roaring engines of F1 for the blistering battery power of Formula E this season, and told Arab News that the idea was not “impossible.”
“On overtaking, Formula 1, that’s a difficult question to answer. But what can I say, is that it’s not impossible. We just need to wait and see how things go, (whether) it is ‘when’ or ‘if,’ but it’s definitely not impossible,” he said.
“Formula E and electric cars are becoming ever-more present, but it will definitely be the future, even in the short-term future.
“It (the technology) has already arrived in some countries and will in other countries, too, it is the future. I think Formula E has used that mentality, even five years ago to build this (motorsport) category,” he added.
Massa, who raced for 15 seasons in Formula One and won 11 grands prix, was also positive about the potential of Formula E as it continues to expand after its inception in 2011 and inaugural season in 2014.
“It will take a little bit of time, it’s not easy to get things perfect straight away, but look at the past two years and how much the championship is growing.
“When I say growing, it’s not just with the quality of the drivers, but also with manufacturers’ teams and companies, who are really getting behind the sport.
“Look how many companies they are signing on as sponsors, on many different levels, even companies that sell fuel,” he said.
“We are even racing (this weekend) in a country known as an oil country. So, I think this shows how much this championship is growing.”
Massa also agreed with comments made by F1 director Ross Brawn, who recently said that the highest level of motorsport had become too predictable.
“Only certain racers can win in Formula One, but Formula E is unpredictable and a good example (of that) is that the winners in all past seasons have been different drivers,” he told Arab News.
The affable driver said he is relishing the new challenge that Formula E will pose to his skills and abilities, adding that with the exception of certain parts of the Monaco and Mexico circuits, each track will be new to him.
“I like a challenge, there is a lot to learn and a lot to test myself with and learning the car, working with the team,” he said.
“Even though I’m experienced in motorsport, with my 16 years in Formula One, this is a new test and I will have to start from zero.”
Meanwhile, defending Formula E champion Jean-Eric Vergne said hearing the words “world champion” after his name was “still cool.”
When asked about the challenge from teammate Andre Lotterer on the other side of the Techeetah garage, the Frenchman was full of praise for the German driver.
“He is absolutely one of the most talented drivers, and I expect him to be on the same level as I am and, for sure, it’s going to be a nice competition between us.
“It will be good for the team, as that will push everybody, and that is what we want as a team.”
The former F1 driver was complimentary about Formula E’s new “attack mode,” but voiced concerns about the danger the system posed to drivers on corners on the challenging Ad Diriyah circuit this weekend.