There was plenty of action but no goal in the first half of the World Cup semifinal between France and Belgium here on Tuesday.
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez, after a tactical masterpiece against Brazil, changed his formation again by including Mousa Dembele in a beefed-up midfield and Nacer Chadli playing as the right-back in a 4-3-3 system without compromising on the fluidity of his front three which created a lot of trouble for Brazil in the quarterfinals.
The side continued playing its passing game while France sat deep, wary of the Belgian pace that has destroyed many an opponent.
Happy to cede possession, the French relied on a smash-and-grab job and Kylian Mbappe out ran the much senior Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen in the 13th minute, but Thibaut Courtois was alert enough to rush out and thwart the bid.
Moments later, there was a chance at the other end with Kevin De Bruyne sending a pass to his captain inside the box but Eden Hazard’s effort was slightly off-target. Toby Alderweireld forced a diving save from Hugo Lloris in the 22nd minute after the defenders failed to clear a corner.
Giroud misfires again
Giroud, still searching for his first goal in Russia, tried to head home a Benjamin Pavard cross into the box; the execution, however, left a lot to be desired.
Mbappe soon presented his senior teammate a chance to open the account after a lofted pass from Antoine Griezmann found the youngster in space on the right side of the Belgian box. His layover for Giroud was botched by the Chelsea player who failed to connect properly.
France was then denied by the outstretched hands of Courtois in the 39th minute after Pavard surged into the box to get to the end of an Mbappe pass.
Towards the final stages of the first half, Romelu Lukaku, bottled down by Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti, was fortunate as the latter bungled a clearance from a de Bruyne cross but the Belgian attacker was too surprised to react.
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