The first two quarter-final meetings of the World Cup lived up to the billing
Uruguay vs France
Uruguay line up: Muslera, Caceres, Gimenez, Godin, Laxalt, Nandez, Torreira, Vecino, Bentancur, Suarez, Stuani (4-4-1-1)
France line-up: Lloris, Pavard, Varane, Umtiti, Lucas, Pogba, Kante, Mbappe, Griezmann, Tolisso, Giroud (4-4-2)
Uruguay vs France was billed as a clash between two proponents of completely different football: the defensively minded Uruguay and the attack kings of France, and for much of this game, that is how the game panned out. France looked to be playing in a 4-4-2 formation, with Corentin Tolisso deputizing for the Blaise Matuidi on a narrow left-sided midfield position.
France looked very dangerous on free kicks, and after a turgid first half with few chances, the most notable being a headed chance that Kylian Mbappe headed over, France got a free kick in the 39th minute on the right side of midfield, maybe 60 yards from goal. Antoine Griezmann sent in a beautiful freekick into the box that the normally dependable Uruguay defense failed to deal with and Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane nodded it in. advantage France.
Uruguay huffed and puffed for the remainder of the first half to no avail, perhaps missing the talismanic presence of star striker Edison Cavani. In the second half, Uruguay seemed rather passive and France dominated possession while remaining a threat on set pieces. In the 60th minute, Griezmann fired in a low, speculative shot from just outside the penalty area that Uruguay’s goalkeeper made a complete mess off, somehow failing to punch the ball out as it bounced off his palms and into the net. 2-0 France.
From then on, Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez threw on substitutes, with Maximiliano Gomez coming in for Cristiano Stuani, Cristian Rodriguez coming in for Rodrigo Bentancur to no avail. France held them off very comfortably, with Steven Nzonzi coming in for Tolisso in the 80th minute. The game petered off as a contest, Uruguay brought in Jonathan Urretaviscaya for Nahitaz Nandez in the 73rd minute but even he couldn’t make a difference. France’s fans started celebrating from the 85th minute as they knew that a first semi-final appearance since 1998 when they hosted and won the world cup was theirs.
There was still time for Ousmane Dembele and Nabil Fekir to get run-outs for Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann, as the game fizzled out to a rather anti-climatic end. France advance to the semi-final knowing that having eliminated Argentina and Uruguay so far, they have no reason to fear anyone.
Brazil vs Belgium
Brazil Line-Up: Alisson, Fagner, Miranda, Thiago Silva, Marcelo, Fernandinho, Paulinho, Coutinho, Willian, Gabriel Jesus, Neymar (4-3-3)
Belgium Lineup: Courtois, Meunier, Vertonghen, Kompany, Alderweireld, Chadli, Fellaini, Witsel, De Bruyne, Hazard, Lukaku (3-4-3)
The second clash of the evening pitted south American heavyweights against Belgium in a clash that looked primed for goals from the off. Brazil looked strangely passive from the off, with Belgium dictating play and looking better in possession. In the 12th minute, a corner was sent in by Chadli that Fernandinho and Fagner both sought to clear, with not a single Belgium player near them. They made a complete mess of it and Fernandinho scored an own goal. Brazil and many watching fans were shell-shocked. They were sparked to life and started attacking. However, the more they poured forward, the more spaces they left in the back. Belgium sought to score on the counter, and in the thirtieth minute, Lukaku got the ball on a fast break. He rampaged through the middle, shrugging off challenges from Paulinho and Fernandinho and stomping forward almost half the field. He then passed the ball to Kevin de Bruyne, who hit a brilliant right-foot shot across goal from the right side of the 18-yard line. Alisson had no chance.
Brazil was in serious danger now, but try as they might, Neymar and Gabriel made no headway. The game went into the halftime but I could sense that the Brazilians would be better in the second half. Tite, brazils coach, made a change at halftime taking off Willian and bringing on Firmino as they went with two strikers. The impact was immediate, as Brazil camped in Belgium’s half of the pitch throughout. However, shot after shot was either blocked or went wide. In the 58th minute, Gabriel was taken off, and Douglas Costa was brought in as a right winger.
He was much better as a threat, but still, the game remained 2-0. In the 73rd minute, Brazil brought in Renato Augusto for Paulinho in midfield and he had a great impact. In the 75th minute, Coutinho sent in a great chip into the box and Renato glided in a fantastic header at the near post. Game on. Coutinho and Neymar both went close in the dying seconds, with Neymar having a great shot saved by Belgium’s keeper Courtois. In the final minutes, the magnificent Chadli and Lukaku were taken off for Youri Tielemans and Thomas Vermaelen as Belgium defended with every man behind the ball.
Belgium’s so-called golden generation gave a performance that will go down in this world cup as probably the game of the tournament, and they now have a mouthwatering clash with France to look forward to on Tuesday 10th July 7, 2018.