The first World Cup finalist has been decided ... and it is France!
Les Bleus reached their first final since 2006. It will be their third final in the past six World Cups dating back to 1998, which is a record. In fact, there is a stat floating around that says that when France made it to the semi finals in 1958, 1982, and 1986, they lost all three. However in 1998, 2006, and now 2018, they won all three.
There is no doubt that the boys in blue (bleu?) had a heck of a time trying to reach the World Cup following a pretty easy group stage. They first played Leo Messi and the dysfunctional Argentine squad, winning 4-3 thanks in large part to some heroics conjured up by Kylian Mbappe. Then they took out an Uruguayan squad, thanks to Edinson Cavani not playing in the game and an unbelievable goal from Benjamin Pavard. And then on Tuesday, the French were able to extinguish Belgium's Golden Generation, winning 1-0.
This Belgian side was coming into the match hot off the heels of a 2-1 victory over Neymar and the Brazilians. They had the most goals in the competition at 14, with nine separate scorers. No player was more prolific than the Red Devils' giant striker Romelu Lukaku, who had four goals in the tournament. That was good enough for second with CR7 and Denis Cheryshev.
But that's not to say that either he or Eden Hazard were prominent in either of their side's previous knockout stage matches against Brazil and Japan, because they weren't. Marouane Fellaini, Jan Veronghen, Nacer Chadli, and Kevin De Bruyne scored all the goals in those two matches. And while De Bruyne is a bonafide star, this side was surely not at it's peak coming into this game.
Just look at the second of Hazard's two shots during this match. And realize that this shot in the 19th minute would be the Chelsea star's final attempt at goal as he was more-or-less completely taken out of the game after this.
Hazard AGAIN with a big chance! pic.twitter.com/ODeKm1VYTY— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 10, 2018
But it wasn't as if this match was all sunshine and rainbows for the French either. While they were able to constrict Belgium's defense like a snake around it's prey, only allowing them to attempt nine shots in total, they were hardly able to convert once on 19 shot attempts.
This came due to two influences: They were not taking enough smart shots, and Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois was absolutely feeling it on Tuesday. He finished with four saves out of the five shots France took that ended up on-target. His biggest highlight of the day came in the 40th minute when he prevented this shot from Benjamin Pavard.
Pavard gets behind the line on a nice pass from Mbappé, but Courtois is up to the test! pic.twitter.com/21sNZzp9nO— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 10, 2018
The French machine was finally able to get their goal early on in the second half thanks to another defender, Samuel Umtiti. The Barcelona man headed the ball past Courtois off ... wait for it ... another French free kick opportunity. This was the 24-year-old's first World Cup goal and his third career international goal in 24 appearances.
The assist was awarded to Antoine Griezmann. It was his second assist of the competition.
This was an important goal considering that France have been the kings of winning matches 1-0, especially when they have had Hugo Lloris in goal. He has completed three clean sheets over the course of this World Cup. All three of those matches finished 1-0.
Les Bleus were able to hold on to that one goal lead and punch their ticket to the World Cup final on Sunday in Moscow. Considering they've been snakebitten since 2006, it's nice to see them back on the precipice of World Cup immortality. This side is special in all facets of the game and they could challenge many of the recent World Cup champions.
They definitely appear to be the favorites to win it all on Sunday. They're like the Frieza of this World Cup; we have yet to really see their final form. Whether they take on Croatia or England, one wonders if we will see Les Bleus take their game to the next level, or if they'll even need to.
Only time will tell, but the end of the road is in sight, and it's hard to know how to feel about that. This World Cup has been incredibly special and I want to thank each and every one of you for checking out the World Cup recaps, whether you've followed along the whole month, or this is your first article.
I hope to see you all tomorrow!
ONE FUN FACT: France is one of three teams in this World Cup to have more defenders score a goal than attackers and midfielders combined. Panama and Costa Rica were the other two, however both sides only scored one goal each.