As far Golden Generations go, Belgium’s gave it as good of a go as any. Alas, they have fallen just short of the World Cup final and thus, probably, immortality. It’s the thing that tends to happen most often to Golden Generations, failure. It’s a bit of a classic tragedy.
Eden Hazard & Co talked a good game and set good intentions before the game and throughout the tournament, but even they were powerless against the resolute and strong French defence, led by the best player of the World Cup, N’Golo Kante and the ever-useful Olivier Giroud, whose presence in France’s starting lineup made more sense than ever before as he dropped deep into defensive postiions and got away with at least one clear foul on Eden Hazard.
It certainly wasn’t Hazard’s finest hour, tried as he might’ve with some stellar passing and another double-digit dribbles day, but he was still one of the few on Belgium who seemed to show up today in any real capacity. De Bruyne and especially Lukaku were both well below par as Belgium shifted their tactics and formation around constantly to try to figure out a way through France. It’s unclear why they shifted away from what had gotten them to this point, but that’s just how it goes. Honorable mention for Thibaut Courtois, who conceded only on an unsaveable header from Umtiti on a corner (rather poor defending by air-man Fellaini) and made several excellent saves throughout the match.
On the winning side, Kylian Mbappe showed off some of his best and worst Neymar imitations and Olivier Giroud put in his usual shift even as the rest of the team continues to be not set up in his favor. And then there was N’Golo Kante. Hazard called him the best midfielder in the world prior to the game, and that title should not be under any doubt.
France thus advance to their third final in the last 20 years (winning in ‘98, losing in ‘06) and Belgium settle for the third place match. They will both find out their opponents tomorrow, when England take on Croatia in semifinal number two.