International

Kante and Giroud to contest final

In a World Cup semi-final with no shortage of Chelsea players involved, it was our French pair who progressed to Sunday’s showpiece thanks to a 1-0 win.

As expected, it was a tight contest between Les Bleus and their neighbours Belgium, and as is often the case in such encounters, a set-piece settled it, scored by Barcelona’s Samuel Umtiti early in the second half.

N’Golo Kante and Olivier Giroud both started for France, as did Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois for the Red Devils. Courtois was equalling the Belgian record of 64 caps for a goalkeeper, drawing him level with Jean-Marie Pfaff who was their goalie the last time they reached the semi-finals, back in 1986.

The Belgium of 2018 set up with Kevin De Bruyne playing further forward than in previous games, having reshaped to a 4-3-3 with wing-back Thomas Meunier suspended. Eden Hazard played in the left-side position familiar to Chelsea fans and was prominent as his side took the early initiative.

Having made an earlier incision through Les Bleus’ defence, on 15 minutes he struck a diagonal shot across goal and just wide.
 

His next strike, hit far more fiercely, looked destined for the net until it took a flick off the head of opponent Raphael Varane and went over.

With Belgium on top, it needed a sharp Hugo Lloris shot to keep out Toby Alderweireld but then midway through the half, the French did almost create something when a stretching Giroud nearly got his toe on a long pass in front of goal. He later went close with a stooping header at the end of a free-kick routine.

Stretching again, our centre-forward could not turn a Kylian Mbappe cross on-target with half-time approaching but before the whistle, Courtois was at his best when keeping out Benjamin Pavard, the Chelsea man stretching legs wide to divert a low shot wide.
 

So 0-0 at half-time but Belgium and Courtois did concede five minutes into the second period. The decider came from a corner, awarded when a Giroud shot on the turn was half-blocked. The set-piece was headed in at the near post by Umtiti who beat Marouane Fellaini to the ball.

It soon looked like 2-0 was on the cards but Giroud, teed up by Mbappe, had his shot blocked by Mousa Dembele.

For much of the rest of the game it was a question of whether the French, managed by former Chelsea player Didier Deschamps, could resist Belgian pressure and they proved up to the task, with Kante playing an important part.

Fellaini headed wide when well placed, De Bruyne struck a shot well over, and Hazard was unfortunate not to be awarded a free-kick on the edge of the area for a challenge by Giroud. Lloris was called into action to save a powerful strike from Axel Witsel.

Michy Batshuayi came on in stoppage time for the Belgians but it was Courtois at the other end who had to make two late saves.

Giroud had come off on 84 minutes. The centre-forward’s quest for a goal in this tournament goes on - but he now has the chance on the biggest stage off all.
 

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