Football Features

“This was a boy becoming a man” – Player ratings as France come from behind to beat Belgium in Nations League semi-final

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:12, 7 October 2021

In a thrilling night of football, France came from 2-0 down to beat Belgium 2-3 in the second Nations League semi-final.

It was a game of two halves as Belgium dominated the first period before France roared back after the break and won it late.

Here’s how the players rated at Juventus Stadium:


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Belgium

Thibaut Courtois – 6 – Made some big stops when called upon. Could do nothing about any of the France goals.

Toby Alderweireld – 6 – Started out well making plenty of clearances, but definitely got worse as the game wore on and got more and more open. His age must have caught up to him because clearance on Pavard’s cross for the game-winner was so pathetic.

Jason Denayer – 7 – Absolutely sensational at dealing with the French attack, always in the right spot to make a block or a tackle, even against Mbappé’s pace! Was admittedly caught out by the sharpness of Karim Benzema’s finish, however.

Jan Vertonghen – 6 – Looked solid despite his age, albeit needed to be bailed out by Denayer a few times.

Timoty Castagne – 5 – Did nothing in attack and was so sluggish in terms of closing down Theo Hernandez on the game-winner.

Axel Witsel – 4 – Got stuck in first-half but was so sloppy second period and offered his defence no protection. His weak attempts to swipe the ball away from Karim Benzema before his goal were indicative of how poor he was playing.

Youri Tielemans – 4 – Didn’t move the ball as quickly as he can but was very measured in his approach as Belgium bided their time. Of course this didn’t work once France upped the tempo and of course he turned the game with his ridiculous lunging tackle on Griezmann to concede a penalty and gift France their equaliser. Was subbed soon after.

Yannick Carrasco – 8 – Tormented Jules Koundé and Bejamin Pavard all night long. Opened the scoring with a lovely early shot as he cut in off the left and wrong-footed Lloris. An energetic force.

Kevin De Bruyne – 8 – Absolutely brilliant despite the end result. Moved the ball forward so intelligently and deftly. Set-up both of the Belgian goals and his pass for Lukaku’s goal was superhumanly weighted.

Eden Hazard – 4 – Was so ineffective with the ball at his feet. Offered nothing to really hurt the French defence, except for holding the ball for a while and then giving it to the effective players alongside him.

Romelu Lukaku – 8 – Unplayable whenever Belgium could get the ball to him. Such a ridiculous combination of power and technique. His turn, run and finish for the second Belgian goal was barely believable. A staggering bit of play from one of the very best strikers in the world.

Substitutes:

Hans Vanaken (for Tielemans 70′) – 5 – Didn’t impact the game the way Martinez would have liked.

Leandro Trossard (for Hazard 74′) – 5 – Had little impact.

Michy Batshuayi (for Castagne 90’+2) – 6 – Was barely on the pitch but still won so many headed flick ons to keep Belgium’s last ditch attacks alive. Could have come on earlier, perhaps.


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France

Hugo Lloris – 8 – Absolutely could have done better on Lukaku’s goal as he went to ground too early, but he was otherwise excellent as he kept Belgium at bay with countless massive saves, particularly from Lukaku.

Jules Koundé – 5 – Was ropey when pressured. Weak, naive defending against Yannick Carrasco for Belgium’s opener. Played better second-half but still looked vulnerable whenever Belgium got at him.

Raphael Varane – 8 – Damn near flawless in his epic duel with Lukaku. Belgium got no change out of him and had to resort to attacking the wide centre-backs to get their goals (including the disallowed one).

Lucas Hernandez – 6 – Decent for the most part but got absolutely bamboozled by Lukaku for the second Belgium goal and again for the disallowed strike late on.

Benjamin Pavard – 6 – Was so weak when defending Carrasco on his goal and offered nothing in attack until his late run and cross was deflected into Theo’s path for him to score the winner.

Paul Pogba – 7 – Played some lovely passes but nothing too spectacular until late in the game when he smashed a free-kick off the corner of post and bar from all of 30 yards out. However he did the nuts and bolts stuff really well in the second period, helping France keep Belgium penned back in their own half.

Adrien Rabiot – 5 – Ran about a bunch but mostly did nothing.

Theo Hernandez – 8 – Belgium denied France the counter-attacking opportunities that would have allowed Theo to really flex his speed but he never stopped making the runs and was rewarded in the literal last minute of the 90 when he appeared on the edge of the Belgium box to fire a thunderbolt into the back of the French net to win the game.

Antoine Griezmann – 7 – Basically invisible in the first-half but was really lively in the second period when his pressing and movement off the ball completely unsettled the Belgian back-line.

Kylian Mbappé – 8 – His pace looked like being a threat all night but he exploded after half-time and ripped the Belgian defence to bits. Created Benzema’s goal with a nice assist, then buried the penalty with supreme confidence to level for the French. He’s scored in a World Cup final and played magnificently before, but this was Mbappé’s most mature and confident display in a France shirt. This was a true assumption of responsibility, this was a boy becoming a man.

Karim Benzema – 7 – An impressive display full of smart movement and good passing. He pulled France back into the game out of almost nothing with a stunning shot from near the edge of the area and then later had the good sense to get the hell out of way and let Theo Hernandez have a crack at goal.

Substitutes:

Aurelian Tchouameni (for Rabiot 75′) – 7 – Came on and instantly made France better with his calm, measured passing.

Leo Dubois (for Pavard 90’+2) – n/a – Came on late.

Jordan Veretout (for Benzema 90’+7) – n/a – Came on late.