On 14th June World Cup started with 32 teams competing against each other for the ultimate prize. On 10th July only 4 of them were left, from which two got eliminated in the next two matches. Belgium’s dream team had a dream tournament, but they woke up quite earlier from the dream than they would have wished. But overall it was a magnificent tournament for them. On the other hand Croatia continued their dominance against the big teams and Harry Kane’s England for once had to surrender to a hearty team effort from the opponents. Both of the semi-finals were amazing containing joys and heart-breaks in what was an overall memorable tournament.

Hazard denied

Saint Petersburg was lit up brightly, as you would expect for a World Cup Semi-Final of the most followed sport in the world, but it was just the stadium lightning that had the impact in the first half of the match as players from both teams failed to provide even a single goal in the first half of a much anticipated semi-final. It was the missed chances from both sides or the brilliant defending is a debate in itself. Eden Hazard is a player who when gets a chance, finds the nets. But it was the 20th minute and Hazard ran in from the left corner and found a space to have a shot from inside the penalty area. It was a well crafted shot on its way to the top right corner but found a vital deflection of a defender to deny Hazard and importantly Belgium.

Leading from the front

The 22nd minute came with a test for the French goal-keeper Hugo Lloris and the Frenchman passed it with flying colours. It was Belgium’s corner which was not taken so well as the ball went to Olivier Giroud but somehow Giroud made a mess of it. He didn’t get hold of the ball and Toby Alderweireld did. His shot was destined for the nets if it was not the athleticism and skills of Lloris. A spectacular save from the Frenchman earned a grand praise.

Courtois Hot Form continues

The Chelsea goal-keeper was in mood and it was his turn after Lloris spectacle. Kylian Mbappe had pace but he showed his skills here as he and Benjamin Pavard made a brilliant run into the Belgium’s half. Mbappe passed a canny ball to Pavard and his hit was not bad either. Important deflection by the boots of Courtois saved Belgium from conceding their first goal.

Giroud narrowly missed

The second half started with Olivier Giroud turning Vincent Kompany around with a brilliant move but was unlucky that his shot could not go inside the nets. France had 92% passing accuracy till that point and it was another long ball from the left side to Pogba who sent it to Giroud who had the ball in control till the last time but his shot was defended by in fact a neat tackle.

End of the Wait

So the long wait for a goal ended and it had to end, the way France played till that point it had to end. Giroud could not benefit from good passing but Samuel Umtiti benefited from a corner. A header straight into nets from the right side had France sniffing the Final berth. Antoine Griezmann took a neat corner and Samuel Umtiti arriving at the near post shot a neat header and that was it. It wasn’t just a sniff; it was complete, tasty and delicious victory. It was France who registered a place in the final of 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Croatia-England debacle

It was the last decider before the final and it was England locking horns with Croatia. England were favourites and Croatia the under-dogs. The first semi-final saw the favourites knock under-dogs out, it was the second semi-final and within 5 minutes the favourites proved their tag. A beautiful take from Jesse Lingard and a smart pass to Dele Alli was sensational. Too many defenders pounced on Dele Alli and he was fouled. A free-kick was allowed and taken, and taken in a fashion that there could never be a free kick better than that. It was picture perfect and a glorious England goal that gave them the lead within the opening minutes of the game.

The leveler

It was a perfect long pass from the right corner to Perisic and he did not do anything wrong in putting the ball in the nets to give Croatia the much needed breakthrough, to give them much needed leveler. The Croatian cravings were satisfied, at least for some time and the semi-final was back where it began. Perisic got another chance but he hit the post and England had a collective sigh of relief. No more goals were scored and the game went into the extra time.

Croatian celebration, English despair

In the 100th minute England got a corner and Stones header was deflected. How the ball did not get to the goal; Stones would never know and the defenders would never want to know. Then Ivan Perisic shot in from the left side to Mandzukic and Pickford saved a goal of his life. It was breath-taking stuff from the English goal-keeper. In the drama that was unfolding, somehow Mandzukic found the back of nets and it was Croatia who were celebrating. It was the first time ever that Croatia qualified for the final of FIFA World Cup; they were bound to celebrate.

Belgium and England’s journey was ended in the semi-finals, both of the teams would be heart-broken but it was a brilliant campaign for each. Belgium won every match till the loss to France and England every other game other than the semi-final and a group game against Belgium. Belgium and England again faced each other for the 3rd position match and the result was not different from the group match. Belgium won the match 2 goals to none and claimed 3rd spot. It was their best ever achievement in a FIFA World Cup. And then on 11th July only 2 teams were left in the tournament to compete in the last hurdle in the quest for the grandest prize of them all.

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