France's midfielder Blaise Matuidi celebrates the team's victory in the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between France and Belgium at the Saint Petersburg Stadium.(AFP)
France's midfielder Blaise Matuidi celebrates the team's victory in the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between France and Belgium at the Saint Petersburg Stadium.(AFP)

FIFA World Cup 2018: Like Didier Deschamps in 1998, Blaise Matuidi helping team of superstars

The France midfielder Blasie Matuidi blocked Belgium on the right before helping the forwards
By Bhargab Sarmah | Hindustan Times, Saint Petersburg
UPDATED ON JUL 11, 2018 06:57 PM IST

Didier Deschamps was hardly the most creative of footballers. What he did bring into the pitch, however, was a sense of security.

Deschamps’ reading of the game, his tough-tackling midfield game saw him thrive at Marseille, Juventus and the French national team despite supposedly limited abilities.

As a coach, even after being gifted with some of the world’s best attacking talents in the French national team, Deschamps has adopted a caution-first approach.

Despite criticism in some quarters, France’s run to the World Cup final has shown that it can be effective. A key player in this set-up has turned out to be Blaise Matuidi.

Matuidi is different to what his coach was as a player but like Deschamps, he is helping a French team loaded with superstars tick at the world’s greatest stage.

ALSO READ | FIFA World Cup 2018: How smart France trumped beautiful Belgium

In a central midfield where Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante usually take the plaudits, Matuidi has quietly gone about his business.

While Deschamps started with Corentin Tolisso alongside Kante, Matuidi has emerged his preferred choice as France went deeper in the competition.

Against Belgium, Matuidi was a giant, first cutting off their flow from the right as he assisted left-back Lucas Hernandez and later aiding France forwards.

Even though he is not comfortable on the wings, Matuidi often moved wide on Tuesday night to counter Belgium’s quick positional interchangeability and the threat of Kevin de Bruyne.

Alongside Kante, he helped negate the upper hand Belgium seemed to be enjoying in the opening stages of their semi-final clash.

Then in the second half, Matuidi played a prominent role in attack. His clever, incisive through ball between two Belgian defenders found Olivier Giroud in space six minutes into the half. Giroud’s shot resulted in the corner from which Samuel Umtiti scored.

ALSO READ | FIFA World Cup 2018: They could have danced all night, Parisians celebrate team’s semifinal win

Later, Matuidi drew fouls from Mousa Dembele, Eden Hazard and Toby Alderweirald to disrupt Belgium’s rhythm as France attempted to defend their slender lead.

Against Argentina, Matuidi was crucial to helping build counter-attacks as well as marking Messi with help from Kante.

Deschamps lamented the absence of Matuidi against Uruguay after his suspension had prevented him from playing any part in the game.

“We’ll see if we can get it erased. Why not? But it seems difficult to come back on this decision,” he had said.

It couldn’t be overturned but Matuidi returned to the starting line-up immediately after the one-game ban.

Despite the presence of a host of stars in midfield, Deschamps’ admiration for Matuidi is well-known. Alongside Paul Pogba, Matuidi had received the highest number of starts among central midfielders during the qualifying campaign.

With one game between him and World Cup glory, Matuidi may need to put in another crucial shift to help France secure their first World Cup title since Deschamps held the trophy at the Stade de France in 1998.

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