“Give me just another night, just another night with you…And I’m hurting, hurting baby just like you.” Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger released his solo debut album, just a year before Belgium was knocked out of the World Cup semifinal in 1986. Twenty-two years later, ‘Just Another Night’, a hit single from the same album aptly summarises Belgium’s agonising defeat to France in its second-ever World Cup semifinal. A dour-looking Jagger was among those in the stands last night at the St Petersburg Stadium. He didn’t look impressed.
The result will hurt Belgium, a team of so-called golden generation of players, who came to Russia looking to erase memories of the shock defeat against Wales in the 2016 European Championship quarterfinals. After finding themselves a goal down early in the second half, they failed to claw their way back into the game. It wasn’t the first time they were trailing in this tournament, but France isn’t Japan.
France coach Didier Deschamps side was a unique blend of attack and defence. They spent the entire night thrusting and parrying at a Belgium side that had the ball for over 60 per cent of the match. It was a matured performance from France, like a chardonnay aged in new oak barrels. They defended as a team, attacked on the counter, and held on to their slender lead. If it weren’t for Olivier Giroud being wasteful in front of goal for France, the scoreline would have read differently. It is not surprising that he is yet to open his account in this tournament as he hasn’t managed a single shot on target despite playing seven hours of football. Even some sublime footwork by Kylian Mbappe in the second half couldn’t put Giroud’s name on the scoresheet. In a game that produced very few chances, it is criminal not to at least take a shot on target. Giroud should have been given a yellow and banned for the next game for fluffing Mbappe’s brilliant drag back.
In a sense, France had their own demons that were in need of some exorcising. Three months ahead of the World Cup, France was leading by two goals against Colombia in a friendly game in Paris. In the second half, they let their concentration slip and conceded three goals to lose the game at home. Against Belgium, their focus was unwavering. Deschamps was careful to avoid a repeat and tightened the noose around Belgium by sending on Nzonzi and Tolisso. Playing on the counter, France was looking for a second right up till the end.
Before kickoff, it was difficult to choose between France and Belgium on who would grab a spot in the final. One slew Argentina and the other
Brazil. However, France’s measured display last night dispelled any lingering doubts whether they had it in them to reach another major cup final, two years after losing to Portugal in the 2016 European Cup final. What will be different in the final this time is they have with them Mbappe, a 19-year-old player who wasn’t even born the last time France lifted the World Cup in 1998.