Three Things We Learnt From France 1-0 Belgium
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Three Things We Learnt From France 1-0 Belgium

01/07/24 22:05

France have advanced to the last 8 after beating neighbor’s Belgium 1-0 in what was yet another somewhat underwhelming big clash at Euro 2024. In my preview, I predicted that the game would be decided on the tiniest of margins. This turned out to be bang on, the margin in this case being the kneecap of Jan Vertonghen. The goal accurately summed up a game that was full of intrigue, but lacked the quality many expected. Here are three things we learnt.

France forget their shooting boots again.

In a campaign where France have received criticism for their lack of end product, their first knockout game against bitter rivals Belgium should have provided the perfect opportunity to silence their critics, a chance to say “we’re doing just fine, thank you very much.”

Instead, it was another tepid attacking display from Les Bleus. The stats will say that they had 19 shots, which in most games would be seen as an indicator that they dominated and deserved the win they eventually got. However, the reality is that most of these were speculative efforts from outside the box, just about deserving of the description “half chance”. What is more, they only hit the target with 2 of their 19 attempts, a shockingly bad return for a team of such quality.

It seemed the only way they would score was if the opposition did the job for them, and unsurprisingly, for the second time this tournament, they did. Randal Kolo-Muani, brought on for the misfiring marcus Thuram in the 62nd minute, was threaded through into the right side of the Belgian box five minutes from the end of normal time, and his scuffed shot found the unfortunate knee of Vertonghen, flying past the stranded Koen Casteels in goal.

The French celebrations were wild, as they should be for a goal which takes them to the quarter finals of a major tournament, but France know they won’t get much further if they play like they did today. Their players need to start scoring goals instead of relying on their opponents, and they need to work out how ASAP.

Belgium deserved to lose

Even with the wastefulness of French forwards, Belgium never really looked like capitalizing. They looked slow, tired and honestly, ready to head home. France held the ball for much of the game, and Belgium had to settle for rare foray’s forward on the counter attack.

With the rapid Lois Openda put up top alongside Lukaku, this had the potential to hurt the French backline. But for reasons known only to Dominic Tedesco, most of their play was channeled through Lukaku, a far less dynamic option, and one with a notoriously bad first touch. Any Belgium attack that went through him either petered out or was immediately turned over and turned into a dangerous move for France.

While their attack was next to useless, their defense was for the most part excellent, apart from a couple of misplaced passes, and Vertonghen should count himself exceptionally unlucky in the way the goal transpired.

Belgium, now in the twilight of their so-called “golden generation”, now need to have a radical rethink of their approach to tournament football. Their best result in recent years, the 2018 World Cup where France knocked them out in the semi final stage, appears to be in the depths of ancient history after their showing this summer, and the conveyor belt of Belgian wonderkids needs to start producing again for Belgium to be a factor at the next few tournaments.

The quarter finals

France will face another team who performed below-par in their last 16 fixture. Portugal were lucky to come through against a gritty, stubborn Slovenia team, and wouldn’t have done so had it not been for the heroics of goalkeeper Diogo Costa, who made a brilliant save to deny Benjamin Sesko towards the end of extra time, and then somehow trumped that by saving all three penalties he faced in the shootout after a tense 0-0 draw over the course of 120 minutes.

With France’s lack of clinical finishing up against a goalkeeper who will feel akin to a god after his epic showing for Portugal, France could have psychological frailties before the game even begins. But Portugal have looked just as toothless in attack, and the result may come down to a moment of brilliance from their main men, Kylian Mbappe and Cristiano Ronaldo.

France need to create some form of chemistry between their attackers before this titanic clash on Friday, and need to address the finishing issues of Mbappe, Dembele, Griezmann, Kolo-Muani, and waster-of-chances in chief, Marcus Thuram, if they are to stand a chance of making another major tournament semi final. They may have had luck on their side so far, any championship winning team will tell you it’s best not to rely on it …

Benji Kosartiyer
Journalist
Harry Pascoe

Football Writer

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