Uruguay 0 – 2 France
“France were many people’s favourites coming in to this tournament but, in truth, their recent form doesn’t really warrant it.”
Me, June 16
Right, I should probably say that, while I’m happy to highlight me being quite, quite wrong on many things, France were shit at the beginning of this tournament and, despite that, I still thought about sticking a few quid on them. I really wish I had now. Two goals in the back of the onion bag (do you see what we've done there? DO YOU SEE?!) and they are looking quite the picture of composure.
It was a game played in stark contrast to the evening’s fixture – this was about discipline, care and possession. It was also about Cavani, or rather his absence, which proved nothing short of devastating for Uruguay. They missed his touch and his workrate, something highlighted by his understudy, Cristhian Stuani, who played like someone trying their hardest to fuck up a job interview. Suarez however, looked lonely, like a child whose best mate is off school sick, wondering the playground alone, with no one to pass to him. A small stirring of pity for Suarez there – will wonders never cease? Effectively, Cavani’s absence took two players out of the game.
Mbappé’s superhuman speed was less evident than it had been against Argentina, but he had his moments. The opening goal, however, as so many others this World Cup was from a set piece. Griezmann was the architect, his cross perfectly weighted for Varane to head home. One attempt on target, one goal.
Lloris was outstanding at the other end – his wonder save to keep France’s clean sheet was as good as Muslera’s mistake was poor, soft hands gifting France another. But France never really looked in danger. Uruguay, known for their aggressive, battling spirit, looked a different team here. They looked beaten on all fronts and, as time was called and tears flowed, it became clear that the stronger team had won.
Brazil 1 – 2 Belgium
Don’t dream it’s over”
“Don’t underestimate Belgium,” everyone in England said before their last group game, “they’re a decent side. It won’t be easy.” They were decent as well. True it was a game that neither team seemed desperate to win (Rashford almost looked like he’d received orders to miss), but Belgium definitely looked good. Quality players throughout the squad, no question. We all agreed on that.
This good though? Nope, didn’t see that coming.
Kazan stadium saw another giant killing, Brazil’s fate replayed and writ large on the biggest outdoor screen in the world. Of course, while the headlines are about Belgium’s performance, about Lukaku, Hazard and De Bruyne, it should also be noted that Brazil looked lively themselves. There were shots just missed and some fine goalkeeping from Courtois needed to prevent the South Americans from scoring on several occasions. Most notably in the dying seconds to deny a pretty subdued Neymar the glory he so desperately craves.
By this time, it seemed that Belgium were ready to drop, having given pretty much everything and done so at an incredible pace and mainly on the break. Hazard, in particular, was on incredible form – running, surging, drawing the Brazillians into rash challenges for set pieces. With him and Lukaku going wide, De Bruyne was free to boss the game. His goal, from Lukaku’s pass was extraordinary, this World Cup has had no shortage of superb strikes, but this may well be the best so far, not least due to Lukaku beating Fernandinho and Paulinho in the build up.
Of course, it wasn’t all one-way traffic, it’s just that Brazil looked lacking in the confidence to deal with Hazard and Lukaku driving towards them at speed. There was a decent shout for a penalty that Brazil were denied, and their goal, from Renato Augusto at 76 minutes, was the result of an absolutely exquisite lofted pass from Coutinho – assist of the tournament anyone?
But it was too late to come back by then, legs were tired and Belgium looked equally likely to consolidate their lead… They had done enough and Kazan had claimed another scalp.