World Cup Recap: Semi-final 1

France out-talents Belgium to secure spot in the final

France took a step closer to the World Cup trophy. @FIFAWorldCup verified Twitter account

World Cup Recap: Semi-final 1

France out-talents Belgium to secure spot in the final

 

The semi-finals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup opened on Tuesday with the first spot to be decided between the winner of France and Belgium. A battle between two of the most valuable rosters at Russia 2018, some have considered this semi-final as the true “final” because the winner would most likely be favored to lift the cup on Sunday.

 

France 1-0 Belgium
Saint Petersburg Stadium, St. Petersburg
Attendance: 64,286

 

One goal - the minimal difference - was the decider in a battle of two teams stacked with a handful of Europe’s elite players. France’s Hugo Lloris and Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois - two of the best goalkeepers in the world - were tested early in the first half. Eden Hazard led the way in attack for Belgium while the best opportunity for France came from a long-range attempt by Blaise Matuidi. France generated more opportunities overall but both teams were almost even on shots on goal. The scoreboard would be even at halftime.

 

The moment of the game came in the 51st minute. France, off a corner, took the lead with a header from Samuel Umtiti. The FC Barcelona man found enough separation to power the ball past Courtois. France would play more defensively through the second half but would still play for the second goal when the opportunity showed itself. Belgium would obviously show more urgency to score but would struggle to break down the French defense. Kevin De Bruyne, the Premier League assist king for the past season, was held in check and Eden Hazard’s attempts fell short of a goal. France would win 1-0 in regulation.

 

France advances to their first World Cup final since Germany 2006

Les Blues return to a final after also being finalists two years ago at Euro 2016. On that occasion, France fell short of being crowned European Champions on home soil. That heartbreak is an experience that this squad has surely tapped into in their attempt to win their country’s second World Cup title. The big doubt around this squad was how this “Millennial” squad would perform at the sport’s biggest tournament. Well, France has lived up to it and they’ve done so without one single superstar carrying the team. The scary thing about France is that they are a team of superstars, much like Belgium, and that’s why they will be thought of as the favorite on Sunday. If they pull it off, they will have won it on foreign soil as their only title so far has come at France 1998.

Belgium still able to match or better their best performance

Boasting perhaps their best collection of players ever, the Belgium Red Devils are heartbroken to have missed out on playing the final. They met their match in France and fell short of their dream. With the bulk of their star players ranging from ages 27-32, this was the World Cup where the stars needed to align for Belgium. Belgium’s best finish at a World Cup has been fourth place and this squad could better that with a win on Saturday. That and the $2 million difference in prize money should be enough to see Belgium wanting to finish on a high, but as the years go forth, Belgium may always wonder what might havve been. There is hope yet for this group of players and that’s title or bust at Euro 2020.

Notable stat: France ended a 24-match winning streak for Belgium.

Programming notes:

Soccer Matters with Glenn Davis will be broadcasting from The Gorgeous Gael (5555 Morningside Dr. Houston, TX 77005) with a two-hour LIVE show, airing on ESPN 97.5 FM, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday.

The Blitz will be broadcasting from the Hyatt Regency Houston/Galleria (2626 Sage Rd, Houston, Texas 77056) from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday. Former Houston Dynamo forward and a member of the U.S. national team at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Brian Ching, will be a guest on the show.

Podcasts of both shows are available at PodcastArena.com.

Remaining World Cup Matches (All Times CT):

Wednesday, July 11 (semifinal)

1 p.m. - Croatia vs. England (FOX, Telemundo)

Saturday, July 14 (Third place match)

9 a.m. - Belgium vs. Croatia/England loser (FOX, Telemundo)

Sunday, July 15 (Final)

10 a.m. - France vs. Croatia/England winner (FOX, Telemundo)

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Another tough loss for Houston. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans lost again as their road game ineptitude continues. Former Texans stars DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt helped the Cardinals to the 31-5 victory.

1. The lack of talent is getting exposed earlier and earlier each week. The Texans have seen games slip away faster and faster from them each week. The team is overmatched almost everywhere.

2. Penalties remain a problem for the Texans. It seems like clockwork the team gets an illegal motion or illegal formation each week. Jordan Akins torpedoed a drive with a chop block. Max Scharping erased a positive play with a hold.

3. Davis Mills had some solid moments, but again, this team isn't good. It is hard to assess Mills with this team. He's making quicker decisions but he doesn't have the time or the players to make big plays.

4. The offensive line stinks. The interior of the line is still a mess and with Laremy Tunsil down the edges find themselves shaky as well. The running backs don't block well. The blocking tight ends don't block well. It is bad football in what was supposed to be a much-improved unit.

5. Desmond King was the best returner in the preseason. The team elected to give Andre Roberts an opportunity for a few games, but with his departure, the duties went to King. King is the most successful returner the Texans have had in a long while. Yes, it is that clear after just one game.

6. Max Scharping was benched in favor of Justin McCray. McCray produced similar levels of success. Scharping was benched last year for a journey-man veteran as well. The former second-round pick isn't getting it done.

7. Speaking of former second-round picks, Lonnie Johnson had an interception. That was the highlight of his day. Otherwise, Johnson frequently has me asking "what is Lonnie Johnson doing?" The former second-round pick at cornerback has been less than impressive at safety. Johnson seems to frequently be out of position or making the wrong choice in coverage.

8. DeAndre Hopkins had a solid day against the team that traded him away. Hopkins hauled in seven catches for 53 yards and a touchdown. After he scored, Hopkins looked to bring his hands together and mimic a prayer motion. I don't anticipate this was a nod to Arian Foster but perhaps could this have been about Jack Easterby?

9. The Texans had some sacks, but little of that action came when the game was close. Jonathan Greenard added two sacks to his total. The success Greenard is having is frustrating when you consider he couldn't get on the field last season. Charles Omenihu returned to action and had some pressures for the defense.

10. During the game reports surfaced that the Panthers might be interested in trading for Deshaun Watson. It was also reported by the Houston Chronicle Watson had vetoed a trade to Philadelphia, so the Eagles will not be involved in the Watson sweepstakes. The Panthers can only trade two first-round picks. The Miami Dolphins have three first-round picks they can trade for Deshaun Watson.

11. The Texans decided on a "culture" head coach in David Culley. His team has looked lifeless on the road. While the Texans took their beating, the Lions gave it their all against a good Rams team. Detroit is winless, but they play harder and better than the Texans. It grows clearer each week "culture" is meaningless if the team can't win.

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