Vive la France: Les Bleus Advance to World Cup Final

first_imgST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — They’re young, they’re brash and they’re collectively worth a billion dollars. The one thing missing for this French squad is an international title.Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba and France are about to get that chance.Les Bleus are headed to the World Cup final.Samuel Umtiti clinched a 1-0 win over Belgium — and earned the approval of watching French President Emmanuel Macron in the VIP seats at St. Petersburg Stadium — by scoring on a header off a corner kick in the 51st minute on Tuesday.“Vive la France! Vive la Republique!” France forward Antoine Griezmann shouted during postgame celebrations.Umtiti played his part in a strong defensive effort by the French, too, helping to shut out the highest-scoring team at the tournament and leaving Belgium’s golden generation of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku to regret another missed opportunity at a major tournament.“It’s me that scored,” Umtiti said, “but we all delivered a big game.”France’s Lucas Hernandez, left, celebrates after his team advanced to the final after the semifinal match between France and Belgium at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the St. Petersburg Stadium in St. Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)France’s players danced on the field after the final whistle and their fans sang in the stands long past the end of the match, surrounded by yellow-clad security.They certainly hope to keep the party going on Sunday in the final in Moscow. France — with an average age of 26 — will face either Croatia or England, who play Wednesday at the Luzhniki Stadium in the Russian capital, and has a shot at redemption after losing its last two major finals — at the 2006 World Cup when Zinedine Zidane was sent off for a nasty head-butt and the 2016 European Championship on home soil.“We’re immensely privileged to be in the World Cup final,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “It was so painful two years ago we have to savor it.”Deschamps now has the chance to become the third person to win the World Cup as a player and a coach, after German great Franz Beckenbauer and Brazil’s Mario Zagallo. As France captain, Deschamps raised soccer’s most prized trophy in 1998.Deschamps has faced some criticism for being too pragmatic and functional despite having a squad of superstars, but his team was set up superbly against an opponent that was largely restricted to only minor chances and denied on two occasions in particular by France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.He dived to his right midway through the first half to claw away Toby Alderweireld’s shot, then got in front of Lukaku to punch away one of the many crosses sent in by Belgium in the final stages.People celebrate on the Champs Elysees avenue, with the Arc de Triomphe in background, after the semifinal match between France and Belgium at the 2018 soccer World Cup, Tuesday, July 10, 2018 in Paris. France advanced to the World Cup final for the first time since 2006 with a 1-0 win over Belgium on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)In a tournament dominated by goals from set pieces, France’s goal came off a corner when Griezmann curled in the ball from the right and Umtiti got in front of tall Belgium midfielder Marouane Fellaini to knock in his header at the near post.Up in the corporate seats, president Macron reacted to the goal by shaking the hand of King Philippe of Belgium as FIFA president Gianni Infantino watched on between them.“Unfortunately for us, the difference is just a dead-ball situation, a set play,” Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said. “The game was, as you can imagine, very close, very tight, and it was going to be decided (on) maybe the one that could find that final touch in the box.”After reaching the quarterfinals at both the 2014 World Cup and the European Championship in 2016, Belgium again missed the chance to get to an international final and has yet to fulfil its lofty expectations. Leading the scoring in this tournament with 14 goals, many thought this could be their year.With Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar no longer in Russia, Hazard and Mbappe have taken over as the stars of the World Cup and there was a buzz every time either got the ball.Yet while Hazard — Belgium’s captain — faded after a strong opening 30 minutes, Mbappe was a constant threat. His first touch was after 10 seconds and, after receiving the ball on the right wing, he sped past Jan Vertonghen and then Mousa Dembele on a thrilling run.At 19, Mbappe wasn’t even born when France won the World Cup for the first and only time with a squad that is just as diverse as the one Deschamps is leading 20 years later.Umtiti was born in Cameroon. Mbappe has Algerian-Cameroonian roots.“It’s a pure pleasure to see these players grow,” Deschamps said, “and never give up.”Instead of a trip to Moscow, Belgium will return to St. Petersburg on Saturday for the third-place match no team wants to play.___IN THE STANDSAlong with the French and Gabonese presidents and the king and queen of Belgium, there was rock ‘n’ roll royalty watching the game.Mick Jagger was one of the many famous faces in the stands at St. Petersburg Stadium. The Rolling Stones frontman is a big soccer fan, having attended the World Cup final in Brazil in 2014 as well as many England games.Former Baywatch actress Pamela Anderson, who is the partner of France defender Adil Rami, also was present.—By STEVE DOUGLAS , AP Sports WriterFrance’s Samuel Umtiti celebrates after scoring his sides 1st goal of the game during the semifinal match between France and Belgium at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the St. Petersburg Stadium in, St. Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)People celebrate on the Champs Elysees avenue, with the Arc de Triomphe in background, after the semifinal match between France and Belgium at the 2018 soccer World Cup, Tuesday, July 10, 2018 in Paris. France advanced to the World Cup final for the first time since 2006 with a 1-0 win over Belgium on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)France’s Antoine Griezmann celebrates at the end of the semifinal match between France and Belgium at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the St. Petersburg Stadium in St. Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)France’s Samuel Umtiti celebrates after scoring his sides 1st goal of the game during the semifinal match between France and Belgium at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the St. Petersburg Stadium in, St. Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)In this photo taken with slow shutter speed France’s Kylian Mbappe runs with the ball during the semifinal match between France and Belgium at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the St. Petersburg Stadium, in St. Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)TweetPinShare0 Shareslast_img read more

Baku or bust? Issues facing Sarri and Emery as Europa League final looms

first_imgShare on Messenger Share via Email Share on LinkedIn Unai Emery The question cannot be answered with clarity until the early hours of Thursday morning in Baku. Reaching the Europa League final is creditable, and they have shown some great performances and character along the way, but Emery needs a triumphant ending to avoid harsh questions about how his team blew a top-four finish in the Premier League. Although there has not been enough consistency, some aspects have progressed. In a nutshell: Arsenal have improved in the big games, integrated some new talent such as Lucas Torreira, Mattéo Guendouzi and Bernd Leno, and found a way for their strongest assets up front, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, to flourish together.What could have gone better for them?Sarri The disconnect between the head coach and the support has undermined his position. The football, while effective in periods, has been unrecognisable from his latter days at Napoli. It has been a plod, prompting abusive chants first aired during the defeat by Manchester United in the FA Cup. There is no patience for a work in progress. The Italian would point to a lack of training time, either through the disruption of last summer or the cluttered schedule thereafter. A full pre-season may make a difference. Yet his public criticisms of the recent trip to Boston – while understandable on a footballing level – and his low profile around the charity fixture and associated events will not have endeared him to Roman Abramovich.Emery That woeful end-of-season slump means it is Baku or bust in terms of Champions League qualification. Having put themselves into a strong position in the Premier League, some poor team selections and feeble performances kiboshed that option. One point from home games against Crystal Palace and Brighton will not easily be forgiven if they do not win the Europa League. Taking a broader view, it is still not entirely clear what Emery’s style or plan really is. Defensively they remain a work in progress, the midfield lacks creativity and genuine goal threat from wide positions, and the team are still at times too passive. Chelsea’s N’Golo Kanté set to miss Europa League final with knee injury Share on Twitter Gonzalo Higuaín has failed to impress since joining in January. Photograph: David Klein/Reuters Read more Facebook Share on Pinterest Unai Emery Reuse this content features Share on WhatsApp Have they managed to forge a strong bond with the players?Sarri Only with some. David Luiz has spoken glowingly of the Italian’s approach, though he had been an outcast over the last few months of Conte’s tenure and must be grateful to be involved. While Hudson-Odoi and Loftus-Cheek were on the fringes, their futures were in serious doubt; permitting either academy graduate to leave would have sent out a dismal message. The marginalisation of the club captain, Gary Cahill, and, to a lesser extent, Danny Drinkwater has not sat easily with some senior figures in the dressing room. Kepa Arrizabalaga’s very public tantrum at Wembley, refusing to be substituted late in extra time in the Carabao Cup final, seemed to lay bare a lack of respect for the head coach’s authority.Emery The hangover from his difficult relationship with Neymar while manager of PSG seemed to float around in the beginning when he was trying to stamp some authority. Early-season Emery tried to take a hard line with Özil and the outgoing Aaron Ramsey before relaxing his stance. It has been a challenge to keep Aubameyang and Lacazette inspired when both have had spells on the bench, while it was hard to figure out a way to play them together and maintain a semblance of balance behind them. There seems to be enough respect for Emery from the players – but for the stars of the team, a lot hinges on whether they return to the Champions League. Share on Facebookcenter_img Read more Maurizio Sarri Twitter Chelsea Arsenal What have they done well this season?Maurizio Sarri Chelsea finished third in the Premier League to qualify for next season’s Champions League, which fulfilled the key demand placed on the head coach upon his appointment last July. In the context of last year’s relative toils under Antonio Conte, as well as the mid-term slump this time when their away form collapsed (and they won one of their last five top-flight games), that represents something of an achievement. Throw in the fact they have also reached the Carabao Cup and Europa League finals and Sarri’s assessment, that this season “has been good and, if we win in Baku, would be wonderful”, is far from outlandish. At plenty of other clubs, it would already be considered a triumph. Topics Arsenal’s Sokratis: ‘We respect Chelsea but we are not afraid’ How important is it to win the Europa League final?Sarri The Italian needs to claim a first major trophy at an elite club. Chelsea were enticed by his playing style, which he has yet to implement properly, but still need to be convinced they have a natural-born winner. Success in Azerbaijan would arm Sarri with evidence he can deliver silverware, though it may still not be enough to save him. This is a club in flux, contemplating how to deal with Fifa’s two-window transfer ban and wondering whether the current squad will be able to impose Sarriball on the Premier League. Even now, murmurings persist that Chelsea would not stand in his way if Juventus or Roma were willing to buy out his £5m-a-year contract. Baku could still be farewell.Emery This is a matter of colossal importance and is a big factor in the psychology of the game – because Chelsea have a Champions League ticket in their pocket. It is hard to overstate how much is at stake in terms of Arsenal’s strategic plans. Their transfer budget might differ by around £60m depending on which European competition they will be in. Winning a trophy would be very welcome in itself and proof that they can still be a successful cup team, which Wenger specialised in towards the end. A first European trophy since 1994 would mean a lot on many levels. Have they got the most out of the players at their disposal?Sarri This group have struggled to play with the pizzazz of Sarri’s Napoli. Jorginho was supposed to set the tempo but has spent the season adjusting to new surroundings alongside players unfamiliar with the head coach’s philosophy, while N’Golo Kanté, a two-times Premier League-winning defensive midfielder and a world champion, has operated on the right of a three. That has rarely felt a good use of his qualities. The recruitment of Gonzalo Higuaín in January feels similarly misguided given his lack of impact. The coach did coax the best from Eden Hazard at times, not least through clever selections early on after his summer workload, and eventually (albeit almost reluctantly) lent on the talent of Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. They felt established before achilles injuries cruelly checked progress.Emery Context is really important here. Emery inherited a squad that contained a number of problem areas and then had to contend with losing three important players to season-ending injuries. Not easy circumstances. The mission to get the best out of individuals is linked to the health of the collective. Is it Emery’s fault that Mesut Özil’s assist numbers are down? Or that Granit Xhaka is prone to switching off defensively? Or that Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi can be hit and miss when it comes to end product? Consistency of performance has been difficult to achieve but this is nothing new. Despite all that, Emery has done well to establish a formula that plays to the strengths of Aubameyang and Lacazette, which has got them to this point. David Luiz: ‘We have to beat Unai Emery as well as Arsenal in the final’ Read more Europa League Pinterest last_img read more