12-07-2018

S4 SCORE with theSun July 12, 2018

S5

SCORE with theSun july 12, 2018

Loafing uselessly on the left- wing, Fellaini’s struggles come to encapsulate Belgium’s exit Marouan- end

Deschamps’wet blanket aworry for final INSIDE WRITE by Bob Holmes

Notmeanttobe... Tears flowed freely at the St Petersburg Stadium yesterday as Belgiumwere knocked out of the World Cup. If there is any consolation for the millions of fans around the world, the Red Devils have a chance to finish third on Saturday and ease some of the hurt inflicted by Les Bleus .

A water carrier as a player, a wet blanket as a manager. Despite boasting a team of all talents, Didier Deschamps’ defensive tactics reduced a potential blockbuster World Cup semifinal to a damp squib. Any more of that in Sunday’s final and this thrilling World Cup could yet end in stultifying anti-climax. Francewere not the only culprits and can point to a place in the decider, but they are boring the pants of us. Not only are they blessed with attacking stars of the calibre of Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann, their bench includes such luminaries asNabil Fekir, OusmaneDembele and Thomas Lemar. But it is in Deschamps nature to ask thoroughbreds to do the work of donkeys and so, instead of seeing two neigbours going toe-to toe in a niggling, crackling derby, we had a tame affair that lacked the tempo and tension of many group games. Tobe fair, the tacticsworked– they snuffedout a Belgian side that were simply not at the races.

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still to open his account. In fact, this attacking trio has notched just half a dozen goals between them – a telltale stat on what might have been had the shackles come off. Despite all that creativity on the bench, Deschamps opted for the destructive Blaise Matuidi andN’GoloKante in the engine room, and RobertoMartinez, haileda tactical genius after the Brazil game, had no answer to it. Fellaini was far less effective than in the quarterfinal and showedhis limitations. Andwhen the gamewas slippingout of reach and the kitchen sink should have been thrown, all we sawwere a couple of pots and pans. At least DriesMertens provided a few crosses that might have located Romelu Lukaku had he come on sooner. The big battering ram was a major disappointment as was Kevin de Bruyne, while EdenHazard kept going but was never able to penetrate. If this was an audition for the new galactico vacancy at RealMadrid, hedidnot quite fit thebill. But the Chelsea maestro should not be judged on this performance: he has been too good for too long to be dismissed on one slightly underwhelming 90minutes. His tight dribbling, close control and eye for goal would surely flourish in La Liga and he’s already shown what he can do against Barcelona even when playing as a false 9 in the Champions League. Given the uncertainty at StamfordBridge, he couldn’t be blamed for heading to the Spanish capital. Martinez will no doubt be criticised for losing the chess game, but itwas by a damned close thing and things couldhave beendifferent but for a vital first half save byHugo Lloris. The Spaniard has rebuilt his reputation here and this narrow defeat should not destroy it. The loss of attacking right-backThomasMeunier, due tosuspension, provedhugeandcausedapositional rejig. And because of that, they simply were not the same force that had surprised Brazil. But you feel that, as with England, the title Golden Generation should be banned from the dictionary. Unlike England’s players of that name, several of Belgium’s stars are young enough to fight again but the burden of expectationweighed heavily on their shoulders. Martinez’s assistant, ThierryHenry, however, probably got the perfect result.Muchwasmade of his French loyalties but he wisely kept a low profile and nowhas at least a top four place on his managerial CV without having knocked out his own country. That country now stands on the cusp on a second World Cup triumph – no matter who emerges from the other overnight semifinal. France will be favourites but as in 1998, when the Brazilian Ronaldo’s mystery “fit” cast a shadow over their triumph, this time it could again be slightly sullied – by the constraints imposed by their ownmanager. The Frenchwon’tmind one bit if theywin, but for neutrals, after amonth of heartening, inspiring football with nary a bus in sight, seeing thoroughbreds in shackleswill be a disappointing way for it to end.

IronictwisttoFrench fears: Lloris France were concerned about Belgium’s ability at set pieces but instead scored them- selves from a corner to book a place in the World Cup final in an ironic twist, said captain Hugo Lloris after yesterday’s 1-0 win.”We feared them on set pieces but in the end it was us who scored that way,” Lloris told reporters. France’s goalkeeper also made two key saves to add to some similar heroics in the previous rounds but looked to play down his individual performance.”We all try to be there to help the team and that will be our outlook again when play on Sunday,” he said of the match in Moscow They lost in extra time in Paris in the final of the 2016 European Championship to Portugal.”It was very difficult to accept what happened two years ago, and we do not want that to happen again. We want to finish this tournament in the best possible way.” defensiveBleusslammed Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois said his by Jonathan Liew A game this good, with players this good, is a bit like the early stages of one of thoseAgathaChristiemurder mystery ensembles. Who’s going to wield the deadly weapon? At first you start to suspect one or two of the main characters, but as the plot unfolds, you realise you haven’t the faintest idea. There’s the dashingMr de Bruyne, charming and yetwith a latentmenace. There’sMr Pogba, scheming away, in cahoots with his friend Mr Mbappe. There’s Dr Hazard, lurching diabolically towards the byline. There’s Reverend Lukaku, looking suspiciously quiet. Then there’s Professor Griezmann, Colonel Matuidi, Miss Giroud. It could be anybody. They’re all just so… capable. But nobody suspectedMr Umtiti, in the six- yard-box, with the flicked header. And inmany ways, it was the best twist of a game that defied any attempt to characterise it. It was a game of abundant attacking players settled by a single goal by a defender froma set-piece. It was a meeting of two of the tournament’s best defences in which the two goalkeepers were somehow the stars of the show. It was a game that saw wave after wave of French counter-attacks, but where the decisive play came froma slowmove built up from the back. Where a Belgiumteamassembled to soak up pressure and hit on the break ended up doing almost the exact opposite. A game featuring € 1 billion (RM4.7b) worth of talent, and yet which sawMarouane Fellaini playing on the left wing for almost half its duration. Yes, in a sense the story of Fellaini was the story of Belgium’s night. Which is not to blame him or single him out for their World Cup exit, but merely that he seemed to epitomise a Belgium strategy that began to lose its way towards the end of the first half, and simply started lurching itself at France in the hope that something would stick. And that the dilemma of how best to exploit Fellaini’smany attributes inmanywaysmirrors Belgium’s: a varied and unique cocktail of skills and competencies that are as easily misused as used. What sort of a player is Fellaini, anyway? Managers have withered on the vine trying to work that question out, and even within this match RobertoMartinez seemed undecided. He began at the tip of a three-man midfield ahead of Mousa Dembele and Axel Witsel, and for a while almost began to play like a regular midfielder: laying the ball off intelligently, playing some good passes in tight spots, even

trying a little cheeky flick to lay the ball off to EdenHazard. But alas, this Marouane had not long to live. Towards the end of the first half, Martinez decided to unleashEvilMarouane: pushing him out towards the left wing, with the brief of sneaking towards the back post – insofar as Fellaini can sneak anywhere – andgettingon the end of De Bruyne’s inswinging crosses. Early in the second half, he went up for a header and poignantly was denied by Paul Pogba: these twoManchesterUnitedteammates, the suave young prince and the court jester, the world-record signing and the player described by one of the club’s own fanzines as a “bog brush”. It was Fellaini who was beaten in the air by Umtiti for France’s goal, and a fewminutes after that he missed a chance to atone when he stole ahead of Pogba and headed the ball wide. And that was all. Remarkably, that was the only aerial duel Fellaini won that game, out of the six he contested. Martinez had ripped up Belgium’s gameplan, moved Hazard out of position, recalibrated virtually his entire strategy, all for one header. So what did Fellaini do the rest of the time? Well, hedidprettymuchwhat youwouldexpect Fellaini to do on the left wing: lope around looking busy, receiving the ball and getting rid of it just as quickly, and on a couple of occasions even getting in a position to cross, which was just as well, because the 1.72m Hazard was hurtling into the area. It was like using a rolling pin to slice bread. And then, with 10minutes left, Martinez finally admitted defeat and brought himoff for Yannick Carrasco. Not that Belgium could really create much thereafter, either. It was the sort of situation, in fact, where you would have loved to be able to bring Fellaini off the bench. And you wonder, when Martinez debriefs this game, or perhaps revisits itmany years fromnow, whether hewill look back and wonder what on earth he was doing.  Nacer Chadli at right-back. EdenHazard as a central playmaker. Three defensivemidfielders against a team that doesn’t really play the ball through central midfield. And Fellaini at left wing. But then, that’s the thing about football. It doesn’t always have to make sense. – The Independent

But with a performance straight from the Tony Pulis anti-football m a n u a l , i t k i l l e d t h e atmosphere. There were only flickers of what might have been – Mbappe demonstrated his jet heels in the very first minute – but it was a false dawn. T h e £ 1 6 6 m i l l i o n (RM913m) PSG prodigy did threaten a few times and

produced an outrageous back heel and flick, but, worryingly he also showed that he’s learned from the Neymar School of Theatrics. Just 19, we have

to give him the benefit of the doubt but it’s still premature to talk of him stepping into the shoes of CristianoRonaldo and Lionel Messi. And if he stays at PSG too long, he may not develop t o h i s f u l l potential. Griezmann, who is no slouch either, was a willing toiler, t a k i ng s e t - p i ece s a l a Harry Kane in Euro 16. But, Roy Hodgson please note, he doesn’t have the height to meet them. Olivier Giroud also worked his socks off, but has

team’s defeat by France in the World Cup semifinals yesterday was a “shame for football”, criticising Didier Deschamps’s side for a defensive style of play. “It was a frustrating match. France didn’t play at all, they defended with 11 players within 40m of their goal,” Chelsea goalkeeper Courtois told Belgian TV channel RTBF . “They played on the counter- attack with (Kylian) Mbappe, who is very quick. That’s their right. They know when an opponent plays very deep, that’s where we have problems. The frustration is there because we didn’t lose to a team who are better than us, we lost to a team who play nothing, just defend. Against Uruguay (in the quarterfinals) they scored with a freekick and a goalkeeping error. Today, a corner. It’s a shame for football that Belgium didn’t win today.”

Katrin Kerkhofs (Dries Mertens)

One of the few Flemish speakers in the Belgian squad, Dries Mertens can at least speak his native tongue to his wife Katrin – and he has seldom stopped since they met in childhood. Since he signed for Napoli, the couple have shuttled back and forth between their homes in the centre of Naples and the centre of Leuven in Belgium. Katrin’s first brush with fame came when her dancing ability earned a kiss from James Brown with the words “Girl, you can dance.” A broadcaster by trade,

she reported from Rio de Janeiro during the 2014 World Cup. Sadly, now she cannot fulfil her dream of reporting on her husband actually winning the thing.

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