Heroes And Villains Of The World Cup: Matchday 22

France is through to the final of the 2018 World Cup; Belgium must settle for the third place playoff.

There’s your answer: From front to back, France has the best blend of talent at this World Cup. That’s not to deride Croatia or England, it’s just a question that was very obviously going to be settled in this particular semifinal. Could the “magic” propel either of those nations beyond France in the final? As Steven Gerrard would say, yeeeaah course — Portugal did it. 

But this is a France side that looks determined to make up for what happened two years ago, and the frightening thing is, Les Bleus still look capable of reaching another level. 

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Heroes and Villains of the World Cup: Matchday 22

Hero: Kylian Mbappe (France)

We want to see tense, dramatic and hyper competitive football at this point, but we also want to see these games illuminated by the world’s best. Today, the 19-year-old looked an unstoppable force on the ball — France probably should’ve looked for him even more. 

Mbappe had his chances on the break toward the end of the match, but he was a terrifying presence for Belgium's defenders and midfielders throughout. If not for Mousa Dembele’s block, he would’ve registered the assist of the tournament too. 

Honorable mention: Raphael Varane (France)

Samuel Umtiti got the goal, but it’s obvious Varane is the commanding half of the center back pairing. With France establishing ascendancy in the middle of the park, Belgium could only find joy in the wide areas. However, every ball in the box was eaten by this man. All the 25-year-old does is win football’s biggest prizes. Can you image being a World Cup winner and four-time Champions League winner at that age? It just might happen.

Villain: Marouane Fellaini (Belgium) 

Toby Alderweireld was running with Umtiti as well, but damn is it contrary to putting Fellaini in the starting 11 when the 6-4 tree is losing important headers.  

But it wasn’t just the goal that earns Fellaini’s place here. The big man was inserted alongside Mousa Dembele (who also had a poor match) and Axel Witsel in midfield, but the three made little to no impact and struggled to get across and help Jan Vertonghen in his losing battle against Mbappe.

What’s more, the “guaranteed” aerial threat of Fellaini was absolutely nullified by the combined defending of Varane, Benjamin Pavard and Pogba — the three won everything that was sent in the general direction of either Fellaini or Lukaku. 

Honorable mention: Romelu Lukaku (Belgium)

You can pretty much just read the above again. He was ineffective, lost his duels and Belgium’s vaunted counter attack never really had an opportunity to present itself, particularly after Umtiti’s goal in the 51st minute.

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