Saturday will feature England against Sweden and host Russia versus Croatia for the final two spots in the semis
By Arnie Leshin
If France was already putting together a way to defeat Brazil, it can tear it up.
And if World Cup fanatics were expecting to see the “big 3” in the semifinals, they won’t. FirstGermany was eliminated. Next came Argentina, and in Friday’s quarterfinals at Nizhny Novgordo Stadium in Russia, down went Brazil.
Benefiting was France, which blanked Uruguay, 2-0, in the morning opener, and Belgium holding off Brazil, 2-1, in the closer. Those two survivors now match-up in Tuesday’s semifinals, the first there for France since 1998, and the first-ever appearance for Belgium.
The young Frenchmen played a smart match, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris turned away some tough shots that came while the match was still scoreless. Up 1-0, he did the same, and when the frustrated Brazilians turned on the heat in the final minutes, Lloris withstood the challenge and the pressure.
Having masterminded its two goals, France also put its defense in full gear when Uruguay rushed the ball in trying to get within one goal and than forcing a tie, and neither worked. Whereas Uruguay made its push late in the match, confident France was steady throughout.
In the 40th minute, it scored the only goal it would need when Raphael Valane booted the ball in from the left side of the goal. Then it tacked on the insurance goal when Antonio Griezmann, on an assist from Nael Ferir, who picked off the rebound of a missed try and headed it to Griezmann in the 81st minute for the score from the side of the goal.
France slowed the match down in order to slow down Uruguay, and it worked. Even when the game had gone 10 minutes, Uruguay appeared puzzled by the game plan of France.
It was like France leaves you waiting, and then scratching your head when it doesn’t happen. It needed to do what it practiced, and that did happen.
From the announced crowd of 43,265, Uruguay had more of a turnout, and it came to life late in the second half, but you win on the field and it was France that did the celebrating.
Meanwhile, back in Belgium, they showed a packed airport with the fans whooping it up, hugging and realizing their team defeated mighty Brazil, winner of a record five World Cups and one of the favorites to win this time.
But despite being outshot, 18-9, and being behind on possessions, 57 percent to 43 percent, Belgium found a way to outplay Brazil when it mattered most, and it was an own goal by Brazilian Fernandinho that put Belgium ahead 1-0 in the 13thminute.
Then in the 31st minute, Belgium scored its own goal when Kevin De Bruyne took a pass from Romelu Lukaku, and kicked it past the goalie to go up 2-0. That was a key score because Brazil did cut the gap to 2-1 on a right-footed shot from outside the box. And as was the case in game one, it was Brazil with a lot more supporters.
No matter, Uruguay and Brazil had the fans, but both were ousted by the play on the field.
So, in one corner you have France, and in the other there’s Belgium, to gain the semis. Saturday, the Final Four will be completed when host Russia takes on Croatia and England plays Sweden.
And at home perhaps watching on television will be Brazil, Argentina and Germany. Four more years before the next World Cup and maybe the absent United States team will qualify.