World Cup 2018: France v Belgium

Les Bleus face the Red Devils as Europe's finest meet in St Petersburg for the first semi-final

Patrick Madden Tue, Jul 10
 
LIVE: World Cup 2018: France v Belgium

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  • Good evening!


    Welcome to our coverage of the first semi-final of this World Cup, between France and Belgium in St Petersburg (kick-off 7.0)


    Incase you haven't heard, it's been announced that Cristiano Ronaldo is set to join Juventus after nearly 10 years at Real Madrid - presumably for the last act in one of the greatest careers.


    But for once, Ronaldo won't own the headlines tomorrow morning. Because while he winds down, tonight some of Europe's brightest young things face off in the last four, ready to shoot for the stars.


    In one corner stand France. Ah, France. Frustrating, mercurial, limitlessly talented, maddeningly constricted but on the brink of the final. The world is still waiting for Didier Deschamps to let this extraordinary bunch of players off their leash - but maybe he doesn't have to. Afterall, they've made it this far without being really troubled.


    In the other corner stand the Red Devils of Belgium - the golden generation who came of age in thrilling fashion against Brazil in the quarter-finals. It wasn't plain sailing, but the way Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku shredded the five-time winners confirmed once and for all that the hype is to be believed.


    This has been a truly great World Cup - tonight's game could be the heavyweight classic which cements its legend. These are two teams whose stunning attacking options are complemented by steely spines, two sides ready to hit their peak.


    We'll be bringing you all of the action from St Petersburg throughout the evening. Sit back, embrace it, enjoy it - it doesn't get much better than this.


    Come on!!!

  • TEAM NEWS


    France: Lloris; Pavard, Varane, Umtiti, Hernandez; Kanté, Pogba, Matuidi; Mbappé, 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.


    Referee: C Cakir (Turkey)

  • Just the one change for each side tonight. Blaise Matuidi was suspended for France's quarter-final win over Uruguay, he comes back ino the starting XI in place of Corentin Tolisso.

    Meanwhile Roberto Martinez is without the rampaging Thomas Meunier who's been impressive at right wingback throughout the tournament. He's replaced by Moussa Dembele, who will presumably start in midfield with Nacer Chadli slotting in at rightback in a back four.  

  • The Irish Times' very own Mick Ruane is watching in France tonight and he's spotted some Belgium fans behind enemy lines. . .
  • Everywhere you look tonight there are some fascinating match-ups - many of them made in the Premier League.  

    Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante v Marouane Fellaini and Kevin De Bruyne. Eden Hazard v Kylian Mbappe. Romelu Lukaku v Raphael Varane and Antoine Griezmann v Jan Vertonghen.

    Surely there's no way this can be anything other than a stone cold classic. . .

  • Absolute delight for Eamon Dunphy as he gets to pore over videos of Paul Pogba misplacing passes as part of his pre-match analysis. Him and Graeme Souness probably meet up in the pub to wibble on about Pogba's various hairstyles and what a waste of money he is.
  • To show Belgium haven't completely taken over the south of France.
  • It goes without saying, but this fixture is huge for both managers - their tenures will be judged on what happens tonight. Both Deschamps and Martinez have been much-maligned - accused of failing to get the best out of two fine squads - but they will be vindicated if their side is victorious in St Petersburg.

    That said, Deschamps is the more likely to receive his P45 in the morning if his team are beaten.

  • 15 mins until kick-off!
  • The winners of this will, of course, play England or Croatia in the final. Neither will hold too much fear for whoever wins tonight.
  • Here come the teams. . .
  • Split loyalties for Thierry Henry tonight - the French legend is on the Belgian bench.
  • Tonight's ref is Turkey's Cuneyt Cakir.

    BEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!

  • 1 min: A whirlwind start as Mbappe blazes down the right and pulls a good ball back to Griezmann in the box - his shot is blocked and De Bruyne clears.
  • 2 min: Early possession for France. As it stands, Chadli is lining up on the right of a back four.
  • 3 min: France owning the ball in these early stages.
  • 4 min: France give the ball away and Belgium show how dangerous they are on the counter. Vertonghen works it to Hazard who dances inside, De Bruyne finding Chadli on the overlap on the right. France clear - very bright start this.
  • 6 min: Hazard with another menacing run down the left and forcing Umtiti into an awkward clearance behind - Belgian corner. Chadli's delivery curls out for a goal kick on the far side.
  • 8 min: Hazard was electric against Brazil and he's continued in a similar vein here - three blue shirts scramble to close him down whenever he gets on the ball.
  • 9 min: Now it's Belgium controlling possesison. Pavard picks off a pass on halfway but plays the ball behind Griezmann as France look to break.
  • 10 MIN: FRANCE 0 BELGIUM 0
  • 11 min: Brilliant pick from Pogba who finds Mbappe over the top - his flick across goal is behind Giroud. It's warming up.
  • 13 min: Outstanding from Pogba. He picks it up deep and skins Dembele in midfield, before splitting Kompany and Alderweireld with a ball for Mbappe - he scampers after it but can't get there ahead of Courtois.
  • 14 min: Belgium break through De Bruyne, who has Kante in hot pursuit. De Bruyne holds onto it for too long, and can't find the run of Lukaku.
  • 16 min: First sight at goal for Belgium. Deft touch inside from De Bruyne and Hazard is unmarked on the left of the box - he drags his first-time effort just beyond the far post.
  • 17 min: And then a glimpse for France after Giroud charges down Alderweireld's attmepted clearance - Matuidi is muscled out on the byline. There's nothing in this at the moment.
  • 18 min: Matuidi makes nice contact with a left-footed half-volley from the edge - luckily for Courtois it's straight down his throat.
  • 19 min: Hazard is at his menacing best here. He chases a deep cross and cuts in from the left, beating Pavard and flashing a shot towards the far corner. Varane somehow manages to flick it over his own goal for a corner.
  • 20 MIN: FRANCE 0 BELGIUM 0
  • 20 min: De Bruyne nearly picks out Fellaini over the top - excellent read form Lloris who fists it clear. Belgium on top now.
  • 21 min: Varane makes another vital interception, flicking another cross behind for a corner. Giroud fails to clear it at the near post and it drops for Alderweireld who spins and shoots - forcing Lloris into a fine save diving to his right.
  • 23 min: Raking ball from Umtiti, a great run from Giroud - but he can only get a toe on it. Goal kick.
  • 25 min: Good build-up from France, Matuidi working it well and finding Hernandez who earns his side a corner. Fellaini clears with a booming header.
  • 27 min: Fellaini picks off Mbappe in midfield and feeds Hazard, who dances towards the box and works it back out to De Bruyne. Again, Umtiti has to turn it behind.  
  • 30 MIN: FRANCE 0 BELGIUM 0
  • 31 min: Vertonghen fouls Mbappe in midfield - Griezmann over the free-kick. He rolls it short to Pavard who clips it towards Giroud on the penalty spot. The ball is behind him, and he can't quite steer his header inside the near post.  

    Belgium break and Hazard skins Pavard and dances into the box but the ball runs for a goal kick. This is absorbing stuff.

  • 33 min: Kante does what Kante does best - winning the ball in midfield and surging forward, but he has little in the way of support. Belgium can't clear properly and it breaks for Griezmann. He picks out Mbappe in behind and he crosses first-time towards Giroud, who makes a hash of his finish under pressure from Alderweireld. France's best chance.
  • 35 min: Griezmann gives the ball away and then hacks down Hazard as he tries to win it back. The latter is untouchable at present.
  • 36 min: Kante, Matuidi and Griezmann work it beautifully and France can counter - Griezmann carries into the Belgian final third and drags a tame shot well wide.
  • 39 min: Best chance so far. Patient France build-up and Mbappe finds Pavard in the box - his shot catches Courtois' standing leg and deflects narrowly wide for a corner. Should have scored.
  • 40 MIN: FRANCE 0 BELGIUM 0
  • 41 min: Belgium have really struggled to get Lukaku into the game thus far - France not affording him any space in behind.
  • 43 min: Hazard tries to do to much running from deep and Kante picks him off with ease. Griezmann then slips in Pogba who is hauled down by Dembele as he strode towards the box.

    Griezmann over the free-kick - he hits it into the wall and then passes the rebound out for a goal-kick.

  • 46 min: De Bruyne crosses from the right and Umtiti misses with his clearance - his touch does just enough to ensure Lukaku can't convert.
  • HT: FRANCE 0 BELGIUM 0
  • No goals at half-time, but this is of the highest quality.
  • The teams are back out for what promises to be a monster of a second half.

    And we're back underway!

  • 46 min: A let-off for France as De Bruyne nearly seizes on the scraps from a long ball.
  • 47 min: A first glimpse for Lukaku - great ball from Witsel and he can't keep his header down. Varane did excellently in fairness.
  • 48 min: There's a brilliant battle between between Mbappe and Vertonghen, who is using all of his positional awareness to keep him at bay for now. A ball is clipped towards Fellaini but Pogna flicks it clear ahead of him. Fascinating match-ups everywhere you look.
  • 50 MIN: FRANCE 0 BELGIUM 0
  • 51 min: Slick from France, Hernandez finds the run of Matuidi down the inside left channel and he works it to Giroud in the box. He swivels and Kompany blocks his shot for a corner.
  • GOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLL!!!!!!

    FRANCE 1 BELGIUM 0 (UMTITI 51 MIN)

  • First blood to France. The corner is swung in and Umtiti meets it ahead of Fellaini, flicking a good header beyond Courtois. Replays show it might have come off Fellaini last.

    53 MIN: FRANCE 1 BELGIUM 0

  • 54 min: Dembele fouls Matuidi, who's been excellent thus far. Very dangerous free-kick for France to the left of the box, level with the edge. Griezmann clips it in - Kompany semi-clears it. Belgium look to break and there's a very tactical foul on Hazard on halfway.
  • 56 min: France really in the mood now. They break with devastating pace down the right, Pogba feeding Mbappe who picks out Matuidi - his shot is blocked. And then a stunning bit of skill from Mbappe on the edge leaves Kompany for dead - Giroud's shot is blocked by Dembele.
  • 58 min: France now firmly in control.
  • 60 MIN: FRANCE 1 BELGIUM 0
  • 60 min: Dries Mertens on for Dembele, who's looked leggy by his standards.
  • 61 min: Better from Belgium. Lukaku works it to Hazard inside and then takes the return, feeding Mertens on the overlap. His cross is half-cleared - De Bruyne steams onto the looping ball but makes a hash of his shot. Chance.
  • 63 min: Chadli battles hard to win a corner for Belgium on the right. Poor corner and then De Bruyne gives the ball away - Hazard takes a booking after pulling down Matuidi on halfway.
  • 65 min: Mertens whips a cross in from the right and Lloris opts to punch. Belgium continue to probe. Fellaini meets another cross from the right on the penalty spot and rockets a header inches wide.
  • 67 min: Glorious counter attack from France. Mbappe skins De Bruyne on the right and then switches the play to Griezmann - his touch is like velcro and he pulls it back for Giroud who blazes over.
  • 70 MIN: FRANCE 1 BELGIUM 0
  • 70 min: Excellent ball form Mertens in towards Fellaini - brilliant defence from Pogba to stop him getting goalside. Belgium bombard the box but again Pogba heads clear, relieving the pressure.
  • 72 min: Cute touch from Lukaku into Mertens - Umtiti does well to block the return. Belgium running out of time.
  • 74 min: France are sitting deep, looking for that killer break. De Bruyne's first time cross from the right is poor and Witsel has to foul Griezmann.
  • 76 min: De Bruyne finds a bit of space between the lines and lets one fly with his left - it's very wild.
  • 78 min: France able to slow the pace of the game down at the moment, Belgium unable to up the tempo. Fellaini fouls Mbappe on the right - Griezmann over free-kick. Pogba's glancing header is over.
  • 79 min: Belgium break, De Bruyne finding Hazard on the left. He schemes his way inside and is brought down by Giroud on the edge under the ref's nose - clear foul but he's told to get up. As you can imagine, he doesn't take too kindly to that decision. Carrasco comes on for Felliani.
  • 80 MIN: FRANCE 1 BELGIUM 0
  • 81 min: Hazard works it to Lukaku and looks for the return - he's excellently tackled by Varane as he was about to spring into the box. The ball falls nicely for Witsel who makes a lovely connection with his first-time effort - Lloris punches it away.
  • 84 min: Mertens tries to scamper towards the byline and inside but overruns it. Change for France - Stephen Nzonzi on for Giroud. Shutdown.
  • 86 min: And now Matuidi limps off, replaced by Tolisso. He had a stormer.
  • 87 min: Mbappe loses the ball to Hazard on the right. He schemes inside and draws a foul from Kante, who gets a booking. Pogba reads the riot act to Mbappe who should have lumped that to safety.

    De Bruyne over the free-kick.

  • 88 min: De Bruyne's delivery is turned away by Nzonzi and won't drop for a red shirt. It's back out for De Bruyne who nearly picks out Lukaku with a stunner, but it has a fraction too much on it.
  • 90 MIN: FRANCE 1 BELGIUM 0
  • Six minutes added time.
  • 92 min: France frustrating Belgium in the corner. Mbappe dances away with the ball after the whistle and gets a booking. France nearly kill it off, Pogba slides in Griezmann whose low right-footed effort proves easy enough for Courtois.
  • 93 min: Mbappe breaks and has Tolisso to his left. He takes a return ball and is tackled by Kompany. Belgium then break through Hazard. He switches to the right and there's a dangerous ball in - but again it's met by a towering Varane header.
  • 96 min: Pogba bursts through and finds Tolisso - Courtois turns his low effort round the post. Fine save.
  • FT: FRANCE 1 BELGIUM 0

    FRANCE ARE INTO THE WORLD CUP FINAL!!!

  • For all of France's attacking flair, tonight's victory was built on the steel of their back four - Varane was exceptional. Paul Pogba was also immense in midfield, an untouchable performance of maturity many of his critics suggest he isn't capable of.
  • Right, thanks for joining tonight.

    Tomorrow England play Croatia for a place in the World Cup final. Is it coming home? We're soon to find out.

    Cya!