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Saturday 17 November 2018

Deschamps rings French alarm Bel'

Les Bleus warned of tactical surprises from Belgian boss in semi-final

BLUE FEVER: France forward Olivier Giroud limbers up in training ahead of this evening’s
World Cup semi-final clash with Belgium. Photo: David Vincent/AP
BLUE FEVER: France forward Olivier Giroud limbers up in training ahead of this evening’s World Cup semi-final clash with Belgium. Photo: David Vincent/AP

France coach Didier Deschamps is confident he has prepared his players for any tactical surprises his opposite number Roberto Martinez might spring when they face Belgium in the World Cup semi-finals in St Petersburg this evening.

Belgium are the tournament's top scorers, and Martinez sprang a surprise by changing his system in the quarter-final against Brazil, moving target man Romelu Lukaku out wide so Kevin de Bruyne could operate as a "false nine".

The tweaks worked a treat as Belgium neutralised Brazil's midfield while allowing Lukaku and Eden Hazard to get beyond their full backs.

De Bruyne profited from spaces opening up in the middle as Brazil's centre backs were forced to deal with the threat out wide, and he scored his first goal of the tournament in the 2-1 victory.

With Thomas Meunier suspended for the semi-final, Martinez is sure to make at least one change.

"Belgium didn't arrive here by chance. They played a great game against Brazil with a specific game plan," the 49-year-old Deschamps told a news conference yesterday. "Will they do something similar for us? Probably.

"Their team is geared forward. They keep that particular quality, but against Brazil, Martinez intensified the midfield... and the Brazilians couldn't use those corridors.

"They attack very fast. So I've made sure that my players are prepared for any scenarios from the beginning of the match and during the match as well if it changes."

Deschamps added that Martinez had benefited from the strong foundation he inherited from Marc Wilmots, who was sacked after Belgium lost to Wales in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals.

Stamp

"I don't want to offend Martinez but he, of course, benefited from Wilmots' work, despite the fact that Wales eliminate the team," Deschamps said.

HOMEWORK DONE: France head coach Didier Deschamps will have his players ready for Belgium this evening. Photo: Michael Dalder/Reuters
HOMEWORK DONE: France head coach Didier Deschamps will have his players ready for Belgium this evening. Photo: Michael Dalder/Reuters

"He changed things a bit, put his own stamp on the team, but he had great potential with this group of players. I don't know if he's going to do it, but I congratulate him on being in a semi-final even though he's going to face us."

Forward Kylian Mbappe, one of France's best players in Russia, was not at the first 15 minutes of training open to the media, but Deschamps said he had a full squad to choose from.

"Nobody is out, even though we rested four players (on Monday). That was a precautionary measure," the coach added.

The teams have met 73 times before with Belgium winning on 30 occasions, France 24, and 19 matches drawn.

They last met in a friendly in 2015 and a number of Belgian and French players are team-mates at club level.

Hazard and keeper Thibaut Courtois line up opposite Chelsea team mates Ngolo Kante and Olivier Giroud while Paul Pogba faces Manchester United colleagues Marouane Fellaini and Lukaku.

"We know them and they know us," Deschamps said. "It's peculiar because there are many players on my team who will be facing their own club team mates. It's an advantage on both sides, but we will seize every opportunity to reach the final."

Giroud has apologised to Chelsea team-mate Courtois for choosing fellow countryman Hugo Lloris as the best goalkeeper at Russia 2018.

Giroud did his best not to stoke the flames, but said he thought Tottenham's Lloris was the better goalkeeper.

"Thibaut has an impressive wingspan. It's hard to beat him on the sides. He can stop balls in any area," Giroud told a press conference.

"I have scored a few goals against him in training with Chelsea and I hope I can do it. They're both great keepers.

"And they both deserve to be elected as best keeper of the tournament, even if I have a preference for Hugo. The best is Hugo. Sorry Thibaut."

Courtois has kept two clean sheets in five matches in Russia, while Lloris has two in four.

Giroud, who scored five goals in 18 appearances for Chelsea following his £18million move from London rivals Arsenal in January, but has yet to hit the target in this tournament.

"We're expecting a different game against Belgium, they play beautiful football," he said.

"I think it's going to be an open game, they're not going to just defend, obviously.

"It's going to be a good game to watch, I think, and enjoyable to play on the pitch.

"Both teams play good football and move forward, so it will also be a tactical battle at some point."

France and Belgium's squads both have plenty of players who ply their trade in the Premier League and Giroud believes this adds to the intrigue ahead of their clash at the Krestovsky Stadium.

"This is a special game for us," he added. "There are Belgians who have evolved with us at club level.

"There's a big rivalry between France and Belgium, it's a derby. They have nine players who play in the Premier League, so this game with have a little English accent.

"We know their qualities. For Hugo (Lloris), me, N'Golo (Kante), Paul (Pogba), it's a special game.

"We don't want to endure jeering during the pre-season at Chelsea. It will be difficult, but we will qualify. We have to qualify."

  • WORLD CUP SEMI-FINAL: FRANCE v BELGIUM, LIVE RTE2/BBC1/ITV (KO 7.0)

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