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Theo Hernandez’s late winner handed France a 3-2 win over Belgium to set-up a date with Spain in the UEFA Nations League final on Sunday. Didier Deschamps’ side came from two goals down at half time to edge out the Red Devils who remain forever the bridesmaids.



The match began at an electric pace with Kevin De Bruyne nearly opening the scoring with less than 10 minutes on the clock but France captain Hugo Lloris pulled out a world class save to deny the Manchester City man. The two sides cancelled each other out for the next half an hour but it was Belgium that was looking the more dangerous.

It was Roberto Martinez’s men who opened the scoring, grabbing two goals in five minutes just before the interval. Yannick Carrasco got the opener, wrong-footing Lloris and sneaking in a shot at the near post past Benjamin Pavaard and Jules Kounde.

Belgium’s all-time top scorer Romelu Lukaku doubled the lead, with an exceptional turn and finish from De Bruyne’s pass. Belgium looked comfortable at half time but France came out much stronger in the second period.



Antoine Griezmann looked bright even though he did not seem to have his shooting boots on. Karim Benzema pulled a goal back with a smart finish past Thibaut Courtois before Griezmann won a penalty after being sloppily tackled by Youri Tielemans. Mbappe made no mistake as he thumped in the equaliser from the spot into the top-corner.

Belgium thought they had got the winner when their two goal-scorers combined as Lukaku tapped in a Carrasco cross on the counter but the Chelsea striker was ruled offside. France’s goal however was clean as a whistle as the ball broke to Theo Hernandez who made no mistake in smashing the ball home from the edge of the area, completing an immense comeback from the men in blue.



France’s 2018 World Cup triumph was built on a foundation of defensive stability with the centre-back pairing of Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti laying the bedrock. Umtiti’s form since has fallen off a cliff and it has left Deschamps with a problem that he has been unable to solve yet.

Presnel Kimpembe, who did not start against Belgium, has failed to impress for both club and country at the level needed. On Thursday, Deschamps went with a back three but there were gaps apparent straight from the off. The opening goal highlighted the problem with the system – Carrasco being afforded far too much time and space in the right channel – and the second goal highlighted the problem with personnel with Lucas Hernandez getting turned far too easily by Romelu Lukaku.



The midfield pairing of Rabiot and Pogba too was not dynamic enough and the team was visibly lacking in balance. They might have got the win on the night but if Les Bleus harbour hopes of retaining their world crown then they need to find a system that works defensively for the players that they have soon.



The signs were there at the Euros in the summer but it could not have been clearer that the Belgian golden generation is on its last legs with an ageing defence and an imbalance side. Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen have class and gravitas but neither has been a top level defender for a couple of seasons now at least.



Eden Hazard was the talisman for Martinez when he took over but the Real Madrid winger is a shadow of his true self these days, eating up a spot that could be better filled by options on the bench. 

Most importantly though, Belgium still look like they lack the mentality to compete for trophies. Quarterfinal and semifinal exits at the last three major international tournaments have left them none the wiser and they refuse to learn from their mistakes.



Teams do not have as much time to prepare for matches at the international level and even the slightest hint of creativity can prove to be decisive and that was on show in Turin on Thursday. Belgium had a very flexible attacking line alongside Lukaku with De Bruyne and Hazard drifting inside and Carrasco having the license to roam from left wing-back.



France struggled in the first half but found things much easier in the second as Griezmann and Benzema dropped deeper to get on the ball. The quality eventually shown through for France but if they are to beat Spain then they will need to be sharper with La Roja looking a formidable outfit under Luis Enrique.


Ritwik Khanna
Economics student supporting FC Goa and Manchester United, in true masochistic way. Can be found reading Jonathan Wilson and Sid Lowe or planning a quirky trip in his free time.

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