Parked French bus frustrates Belgium

France centre-back Samuel Umtiti celebrating his goal in front of a disgruntled Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. The French defence held strong despite conceding the majority of possession to Belgium, who failed to make inroads with their vaunted
France centre-back Samuel Umtiti celebrating his goal in front of a disgruntled Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. The French defence held strong despite conceding the majority of possession to Belgium, who failed to make inroads with their vaunted attacking trio stymied.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Courtois blames 'anti-football' tactics while de Bruyne insists teams are evenly matched

ST PETERSBURG • Thibaut Courtois has accused France of being an "anti-football team" following Belgium's 1-0 World Cup semi-final loss to Les Bleus in St Petersburg on Tuesday.

Samuel Umtiti's second-half header was the difference in a tightly-fought contest, but one in which Belgium had the bulk of possession (64 per cent) while France mainly looked to counter-attack.

It proved an effective approach, but one that has drawn criticism from Belgium's goalkeeper Courtois as well as captain Eden Hazard.

"France heads a corner and does nothing more than defend," Courtois was quoted as saying by Belgian sports network Sporza.

"I would have preferred to have lost in the quarter-finals to Brazil, at least that was a team that wanted to play football. (France) are just an anti-football team."

Quoted by Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, Hazard said: "I prefer to lose with this Belgium than win with this France. But they do defend strongly and are very efficient.

DOWNRIGHT NEGATIVE

France heads a corner and does nothing more than defend. (France) are just an anti-football team.

THIBAUT COURTOIS, Belgium goalkeeper, believes that their play was hampered by France deciding to sit back and play on the counter.

"We have not found their weak point. That little moment of magic needed to score was not there."

Belgium created early chances but were stymied by France's miserly defence, and undone after Umtiti rose above Marouane Fellaini on 51 minutes to redirect Antoine Griezmann's corner past Courtois.

In truth, but for Courtois, France's margin of victory could have been even greater as he made saves from Griezmann and Corentin Tolisso in stoppage time.

France finished with more shots (19 to nine) and attempts on target (five to three) as well as completed more passes in the opposition box (17 to six).

But Belgium midfielder Kevin de Bruyne believes there was little difference between the two sides.

"In the end, it was just one corner that proved decisive," said the Manchester City star.

"We should have won, but didn't manage to, although France were not better than us."

The bitter defeat as Belgium fell short of their first World Cup final appearance is tempered by the fact that influential squad members will likely still be around in two years' time for the European Championship, where they will have another realistic chance at a major title.

Many of the country's "Golden Generation" - like Hazard, de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Courtois - are still aged under 28.

"Belgian football has got a wealth of young talent coming through and in my role, I've got an eye on the Euros in 2020," said Red Devils coach Roberto Martinez, who signed a contract extension to take him through to 2020 just weeks before the tournament kicked off.

"It's too early to make a sort of assessment of (this) tournament at the moment, we need to focus on that final game, coming back to St Petersburg and facing the opportunity of fighting for that third place.

"Then, we'll need to regroup again."

THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2018, with the headline 'Parked French bus frustrates Belgium'. Print Edition | Subscribe