France are in the 2018 World Cup final – this is how they did it.
Hugo Lloris – 8
You can never underestimate the importance of both your goalkeeper and captain, and Hugo Lloris can take as much credit as anyone in this team after tonight. His saves across the first half and commanding of his defence in the second half was simply superb, and showed that while some people may’ve written off Lloris during the past season, this game and this competition shows that the man is brilliant and so important to whatever team he plays for.
Lucas Hernandez – 6.5
The role of Hernandez today was slightly different today in the sense that he wasn’t allowed to roam forward but his defensive discipline was brilliant. He had to track various Belgian attackers and he did it very well today. It’s hard to give Hernandez a huge mark because his role as a full-back was limited, but in the role he was given, he played very well.
Raphael Varane – 9
Simply magnificent. There have been a couple of defenders who have put in amazing performances this World Cup, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a more impressive performance than Varane tonight. He had Romelu Lukaku in his back pocket all game and that is no easy feat. His aerial battles with Lukaku and Fellaini, his blocks from shots and incredible tackles were what made this performance superb. It’s a pure joy to watch defenders play like this, a pure joy.
Samuel Umtiti – 8.5
The match winner and while he will get the plaudits for the goal, defensively he was amazing. He was strong, tough to beat, smart in the tackle and deciding when to tackle, and just imperious at the back. This partnership has grown from the first game and it has become easily the best defensive duo in the world during this tournament. Umtiti has great defensive intelligence that sometimes goes under the radar, but he was brilliant tonight.
Benjamin Pavard – 6
If you want your full backs to sit deep and defend for the majority of the game as opposed to going forward, you may want to deploy a natural centre back in this role! Pavard defended well even though he wasn’t as advanced at times – much like Hernandez on the opposite flank – but did his job very well. He was admittedly given the run-around the dangerous effect in the first half by Eden Hazard.
N’Golo Kanté – 7.5
If France end up winning the World Cup, Kante needs to be given the Golden Ball. The man is an actual machine! He never stops running, he is always looking for the best moment to tackle and he always knows exactly when to press and who to press. He’s such a smart midfielder but also a very athletically gifted one. Kante is in complete control of games off the ball which can arguably be more important than being on the ball for him. He sets the tone for how France move and he is just superb to watch in action.
Paul Pogba – 8.5
Over the past few weeks, I have been rather critical of Pogba and his performances but tonight he was simply magnificent. Every pass was played to perfection, his defensive discipline was the best I have ever seen it tonight and everything about his game was just brilliant.
Kylian Mbappé – 8
Kylian Mbappé was world class coming into this tournament, and he’s still managed to take it to another level this World Cup. If you weren’t aware of who this young man was, you certainly do now and tonight was another example of how effective he can be when he really needs to be. Up against the Belgian backline, they didn’t look comfortable at all covering him and they almost let him roam free at times. If there was one point to pick on, it would be his slight foolishness towards the end that earned him a booking. To be a truly great player, he needs to cut that out.
Antoine Griezmann – 8.5
Griezmann’s role tonight wasn’t to just score goals, but to help the forwards out in the attacks. He didn’t grab his goal, but he did manage to create a few attacks and, more impressively, helped set the tone as the first line of defence with his intense high pressing of Alderweireld, Vertonghen and Kompany, accompanied by his last-ditch recovery tackles on the Belgian midfield.
Blaise Matuidi – 9
One could argue that Matuidi is one of the most important players in this team because of his discipline, his energy and his ability to break up play with ease. He was magnificent, and not many people will disagree. The only cause for concern will be whether his knock towards the end of the game will be serious and if it will keep him out of the World Cup final, but he was flawless positionally. A hero whose most impressive traits embody everything that Didier Deschamps wants from his side.
Olivier Giroud – 6.5
As a self professed fan of Giroud, tonight wasn’t his strongest night in front of goal. Sometimes he has games where his role is to set up others and to almost forget about scoring but when you have some of the chances he had tonight, he simply had to score at least one of them. Nevertheless, you can’t fault his unselfishness with regards to sacrificing his own game and his defensive headers from set pieces and corners.