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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3 reasons Deshaun Watson looks poised to fill Harden's diva shoes

Houston fans haven't had a lot to cheer about lately. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

I'm a fan of sports athlete divas. I don't have to play with them, so it doesn't affect me, and it adds an extra layer of entertainment to the product. And at the end of the day, we're all just in this to be entertained, right?

Some fans, however, don't share that opinion, which is fine. They prefer no distractions. They want their team's stars to resemble something more like superheroes with flawless moral character. The quintessential locker room leader.

Those guys are great, but those guys are boring.

Luckily (for me at least) Houston was--until recently--home to one of the biggest divas in basketball for the past eight years. Rockets fans have had the pleasure of watching James Harden blossom from a humble sixth man of the year recipient just looking to lead a struggling franchise, to the Kardashian-dating, GQ cover modeling, "hunny bun" gifting ($100k cash for the less fluent, surrounded by actual honey buns), after hours club aficionado that we all know and…well…know.

Harden—as is common knowledge at this point—has finally moved on from the Rockets. This would seem to most that Houston is now either diva-devoid or diva-free, depending on your perspective. To that I say, "not so fast."

Filling Harden's shoes won't be easy, but it looks like there's a budding contender already in town looking to take the crown. Head out of the Toyota Center and make a quick drive down 288. There, you'll find a 25-year-old football player throwing touchdowns and raising eyebrows.

For all intents and purposes, Deshaun Watson is a good guy. He's charitable, he's taken a beating behind an abysmal offensive line and never complained. He is, for the most part, the superhero some clamor for.

Yet, there are several key similarities between Harden and Watson that suggest a changing of the guard may be in store. Let's take a look:

1) Undue influence on personnel decisions

In a recent article from ESPN, Tim MacMahon noted just how much pull Harden had over personnel decisions. From Dwight Howard, to Chris Paul, to Russell Westbrook, Harden has pointed his finger, declared "I want that," and watched as the Rockets' front office followed his marching orders. Now it wasn't quite as straightforward as that, but when Watson was asked about players potentially being traded this past deadline, he provided a curiously concrete response:

"Them boys ain't getting traded…[t]hat was something that we squashed."

"Nobody is going anywhere. We're going to stick with this team and keep pushing forward."

Following the deadline, Watson was asked about the fact that wide receiver Will Fuller had been shopped.

"It would've been hell if they did that for sure."

You have to be pretty comfortable with your staying power to throw candid general manager decrees and criticisms like Watson has.

2) Commitment

I don't doubt that Watson leaves it all out on the field, and the stats can back that up. And up until the last few games in a Rockets jersey I would say that Harden, too, gave everything he had. But playing hard and caring aren't always the same thing.

Any pick up game I take part in, I'm going to give 100% of my effort into helping my team win. The difference is that I honestly don't care if my team wins or loses, because we're just playing for fun. When you're a franchise player, though, fans typically prefer that you care, and both superstars have shown through body language or actions that they might not.

Take Harden for example. It was never a good look after losing a playoff series to the San Antonio Spurs in 2017 to be caught at a strip club just a few hours later. Nothing about that suggests that he cared.

Now take Watson, laughing and giggling and smiling game after game during a 4-12 season. Stepping into press conferences with an almost oblivious level of optimism permeating through his responses. It's ok to not take a JJ Watt style approach and look absolutely defeated week in and week out, but it's hardly too much to ask to put on a face for the fans for three hours every Sunday and look a little frustrated over being continuously embarrassed.

3) Immaturity

Whenever I'm in a bad mood or mad about something, I do one of two things. I don't talk to you at all, or I tell you exactly what is wrong. Not so much the case with these two.

Over the past few months, following Harden and Watson's social media has been the equivalent of knowing that you're significant other is mad, but them denying it. When asked, you get the "I'm FINE," response, but then you check their Instagram and there's some picture of a bird flying off with cursive lettering muttering some cryptic message about being held back from seeing how high they can soar. Usually in that situation it just ends up being a fight about eating the other person's leftovers without asking though.

With Harden it was an Instagram post of him holding a bottle cap, leading the sports world to spend DAYS trying to figure out if a grown man unscrewing a bottle was a hint that he wanted to be traded, or that he was just thirsty.

Now it's Watson, tweeting last Friday that "I was on 2 then I took it to 10." Again, no context. He's been caught "liking" tweets and posts suggesting trades to the Jets or the 49ers, but when confronted he denies that it's because he wants to be traded there. It's all childish, and it's pretty lame to be honest. Either be quiet in public, or be as loud as you can. When Harden finally spoke out, he was gone within 24 hours.

Now the difference is that Harden is about six years older and has been in the spotlight much longer than that. Harden is a tried and true, textbook, dyed in the wool diva. Watson's not there yet, but his jet-setting, fashion model-esque Instagram account paired with his recent antics suggest that there may be something brewing.

The question at this stage is whether he'll be in Houston long enough for any of us to find out.

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