France will have won few fans

Former Red Devils technical director MICHEL SABLON says Les Bleus played boring football against Belgium

France have reached the World Cup final, but they did so in a negative fashion.

Don't get me wrong, every team is entitled to play however they want to try and win.

But the football France played against Belgium in their 1-0 semi-final win yesterday morning (Singapore time) is not something most fans want to see.

Frankly, it was a talented team playing boring football.

Les Bleus set up very defensively and try to hit opponents on the counter.

Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois described it as "anti-football". Even striker Olivier Giroud was camped in his own half defending in the last 15-20 minutes.

I understand why after the game Belgium captain Eden Hazard, who came through the French academy system and has an affinity to the country, said: "I prefer to lose with this Belgium than win with this France."

That said, I must admit that I don't think the Red Devils deserved to win yesterday. Too many players performed below their usual levels.

Belgium's midfield went from being a strong suit to a weak point, as Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante won the battle in the middle of the park for France.

The only member of Belgium's midfield trio to play well was Axel Witsel. Mousa Dembele was poor and gave away the ball far too often before he was deservedly substituted after 60 minutes.

Marouane Fellaini joined him 20 minutes later even though Belgium were chasing a goal and sending crosses into the box.

With three players in midfield to France's two, Fellaini was tasked to drift out wide to the left as natural centre-back Jan Vertonghen was playing at left-back. He was as effective as right-back Nacer Chadli, who was the other player Roberto Martinez chose to replace.

Belgium desperately missed suspended right-back Thomas Meunier, who offers so much athleticism and width.

The semi-final revealed that the Red Devils are probably too reliant on the attacking trio of Romelu Lukaku, Kevin de Bruyne and Hazard.

Marooned by a struggling midfield and without support from wide areas, even they struggled.

Lukaku received little service and de Bruyne gave the ball away more than I've ever seen him do. Only Hazard was a shinning light, always scheming and running at players.


As for the rest of his teammates, there is a worrying lack of belief and winning spirit, especially in the second half.

It was very different from the 3-2 Round-of-16 win against Japan, when even at 2-0 down, you knew it was not game over.

Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho said many Belgium players were "hiding", especially in the last 20-25 minutes, and if he meant they were not taking on the responsibility to make things happen, he's right.

There were far too many safe passes and not enough players putting the onus on themselves to find solutions.

It were as if they didn't believe they could break through France's late-game all-out defence.

  • Michel Sablon, the Football Association of Singapore's technical director, was talking to Dilenjit Singh. He was part of Belgium's coaching staff at three World Cups, including 1986, when they finished fourth. The former Belgian FA technical director is credited for developing the blueprint that produced Belgium's current golden generation of footballers.