The two teams with the best defensive records in the World Cup so far exited today, Uruguay falling to France 2-0 and Brazil giving up two as well in their 2-1 loss to Belgium. And an accursed scorer added another to their rap sheet: The Own Goal, who has been dominating this tournament so far with 11 blunderous tallies (Harry Kane is closest with 6). A lot of conversation is running around France and Belgium's front threes as they matchup on Tuesday, but today the goalkeepers were in the spotlight, one standing tall and another letting the game slip through his fingers.
France vs Uruguay (2-1) - Nizhny Novgorod Stadium
Defining Moment: Muslera's Mistake
After a great showing throughout the tournament, including three clean sheets in the group stage and a commanding game against Portugal, Fernando Muslera was pulling the strings behind a stout defensive four, a group that had even more to do without striker Edinson Cavani available to relieve pressure, but it was man against ball on the Griezmann shot, and while it swerved at the final moment, a keeper of his class should have done much better with it. The goals didn't come fast and furious for The Sky Blue throughout the tournament, so 1-0 was a big enough hill to climb. After this strike went through the hands of one of their most reliable players, the team visibly flattened, and France finished the final 30 without a fuss.
A haunting feeling for Muslera.
Defining Player: Antoine Griezmann
Mbappe was always threatening, and Pogba continued to control the midfield, always seeming to find the open spaces, but Griezmann was effective and efficient for Les Blues in this match, having the most key passes, plus a goal and an assist to boot. A good sign for them, as he will need to get activated even more against Belgium as the link between the midfield and the attack.
Defining Image: With Love from Paris
The fans are loving it in Russia.
(I bet you couldn't get baguettes into a stadium in the US)
Belgium vs Brazil (2-1) - Kazan Arena
Defining Moment: Courtois Robs Neymar
There are a few to pick from in this one—Lukaku's powerful counter-run from inside his own half to set up De Bruyne's beauty strike and the own goal from Fernandinho in the 13th minute were key, but Thibault Courtois' dive to pick out Neymar's bender to the upper right in the 94th minute wasn't just a wonderful save in its own merit, but one in a series of stops, starting in the opening minutes when he denied an opportunity off a corner to keep it level just just six minutes later before his team went up 1-0. He was brilliant from start to finish, and deserved the final touch that sent Neymar and the Seleção home, finally putting an end to all the bad jokes and rolling memes. Courtois recorded nine saves on the day.
94th minute: It was headed in, underside of the crossbar and down; Neymar no hero
Defining Player: Eden Hazard
While Courtois held firm for Les Diables between the pipes, it was Hazard who was the biggest handful for the Brazilian defense. Evasive, energetic, and strategic, Hazard didn't only play attacker today—with his team up 2-1 in the 80th minutes, he received the ball, evaded a defender, carried upfield and drew a foul on two different occasions. The relief that provides for a defense is paramount in helping teams kill off time to shore up a victory. De Bruyne and Lukaku will get the highlights, but Hazard was the engine for Belgium today.
Defining Image: Rom Rallies the Boys Again
"Settle down lads, there are bigger games to come"
(Lukaku has kept a cool head in big moments this Cup)
The Semi-Final: Tuesday, Arena St. Petersberg
Hazard, De Bruyne, Lukaku—Mbappe, Pogba, Griezmann. Two powerful, stylish and skillful attacking groups clash, both having proved their merit through tough opponents in the tournament already. France have recovered from 2-1 against Argentina, while Belgium staged a comeback against Japan just a round ago, but the edge goes to France in this one, whose midfield is just more reliable in possession, Kante and Pogba the duo you'd take any day over Fellaini and Witsel. Though the Belgians have experimented with different formations in the tournament so far, and they have the experience of Thierry Henry (he will be exiled if Belgium win), on their coaching staff, so this has all the makings of blockbuster.