France’s Antoine Griezmann provided two assists—a lay-off for Aurelien Tchouameni to slam from outside the box in the 17th minute and a perfect cross for Olivier Giroud to head in from close range in the 78th—and Harry Kane made a penalty in the 54th minute and missed one at the 84th minute to reach the match’s final 2-1 outcome for Les Bleus.
The match was a bit more complicated than that as the English actually outplayed the French for long periods if not the majority of the match, but the French made their chances count and of all people to sky a penalty kick, Kane was the last one you would pick.
The semifinals are thus set—Argentina meet Croatia and France meet Morocco. On paper, this would mean a France-Argentina matchup in the finals, but in a cup that has been anything but predictable France is due for a slip-up and Argentina is due for some bad luck, so who knows what to expect. Certainly, both favorites would rather the slip-up be in the semis than the final, but the gods have been cruel, unfair, and full of surprises and contradictions all tournament long, so who knows?
Didier Deschamps used his top eleven and made changes late in the match and Gareth Southgate followed suit with the difference that he brought his subs in later than the French. Otherwise, the two teams played a very good, tense match that required neither side to modify overall strategies or specific tactics as the French felt they could keep the English at bay (which they barely did) and the English felt they could pierce the French defense enough to get a draw, which they did only for Kane to sky his spot-kick.
In the end, the French get to play the Cinderella of the tournament and the Argentines get to play the oldest team with the shortest bench left in the cup. The funny thing is a Croatia-Morocco final is not only possible, but it would also be the only final that would keep pace with what has been a topsy-turvy tourney since 2010.
Photo: France’s Antoine Griezmann, Shutterstock ID 2054536787, by sbonsi.