France vs Belgium: Les Bleus the real deal, Lukaku fails as No. 9

It was a night when many of Roberto Martinez's decisions didn't pay off.

Mousa Dembele, playing his first match since June 27, failed to impose himself against a star-studded France team.   -  Getty Images

France became the first finalist in the 2018 edition of the World Cup by beating Belgium 1-0 thanks to a Samuel Umtiti header from an Antoine Griezmann corner.

Here are the major talking points from an absorbing football match.

Mousa Dembele fails to deliver

The Tottenham Hotspur midfielder was the only change for Belgium from its 2-1 win over Brazil. Nacer Chadli switched to right-back, taking the place of the suspended Thomas Meunier. Dembele's only other appearance at this World Cup was in the inconsequential, final group fixture against England.

Sensing Blaise Matuidi's return to France's lineup after missing the quarterfinal due to suspension, Roberto Martinez chose Dembele to help control the middle of the park. Under Mauricio Pochettino, Dembele has thrived as a defensive, box-to-box midfielder.

On Tuesday, though, the 30-year-old uncharacteristically kept losing possession in central areas and France was menacing on the counter-attack on the occasions Dembele lost possession. Towards the end of the first half, France nearly took the lead through Benjamin Pavard at the end of a counter-attacking move that began from Dembele's loose pass, which was pounced on by N'Golo Kante.

Dembele was substituted on 60 minutes, for the length of which he barely offered anything.

France does a number on Belgium

France's game-plan in the round of 16 (against Argentina) had been to absorb pressure by defending in numbers and deep in its own half, and break quickly when the possession turned over.

This tactic paid off in the end, even though Les Bleus had given away the initiative by choosing to play on the counter-attack.

Read: Umtiti's header takes France into final

Against Belgium, it adopted the same tactic: defend deep, deny space for the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne and rely on quick transitions to cut through Belgium.

It looked dangerous almost every time it won the ball back, often in midfield, but Belgium had enough chances of its own to score, particularly in the first half.

Samuel Umtiti's goal, which proved to be the winner, came in the 51st minute from a set-piece. Les Bleus and Deschamps can claim that they did a number on Belgium.

Kylian Mbappe sizzles yet again

Mbappe was arguably France's best player against Belgium. He didn't score a goal or register an assist, but he was instrumental in France getting up the pitch after spells of sustained Belgium possession and showed his quality on a few occasions too.

Such was his threat with the ball at his feet that Belgium almost always doubled up on him, Dembele or Eden Hazard joining Jan Vertonghen to neutralise the 19-year-old Frenchman.

Two moments stood out, in particular: one was the chance he created for Pavard towards the end of the first half, when the VfB Stuttgart defender should have scored, and the second was the nonchalant, perfectly-timed, on-the-turn backheel that found Olivier Giroud on the left-hand-side of the goal. The Chelsea striker shot on goal from a presentable position, but Mousa Dembele stuck out his right leg and blocked the shot.

Romelu Lukaku fails to fire as No. 9

The Manchester United striker struggled playing in the position where he usually plays, which was strange given that he thrived playing as a wide forward against Brazil.

Lukaku had only one attempt on goal all night, though we must remind ourselves that he was almost always surrounded by more than a handful of French players.

Against Brazil, he had plenty of space to run into, which is how he created the second goal (for Kevin De Bruyne). Here, he was subdued and restricted to just 22 touches in the whole of 90 minutes.

Lukaku will be disappointed to have not got his head to a longball from De Bruyne on 89 minutes. The ball was fizzed in and missed the head of the leaping French defender. But if Lukaku had gambled and ran another yard, he will have had a free header to score and pull Belgium level.

Les Bleus looks the real deal 

Having seen off Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium, in three very different kinds of matches, France has to be the most well-equipped finalist.

Despite boasting technically-gifted and versatile players, Deschamps has continued to be conservative in his approach.

And from France's perspective, this approach has worked a treat so far. It will take a big performance from Croatia or England to unsettle France and secure the trophy.

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