It's easy to decide that the 2018 World Cup is France's to lose. They're the team playing the best soccer in the tougher bracket, the favorite against Belgium in the semifinals. That's for good reason. France is playing the type of soccer that sets them apart at a World Cup where nobody wants to be the favorite anymore. Favorites lose at this World Cup.
The run of upsets took out Germany in the group stage, pretty much every neutral's favorite when the tournament started. Argentina, Portugal, and Spain followed in the knockout round. Brazil lasted until the quarterfinals. It's worth pointing out that Belgium started the World Cup in 3rd-place in the FIFA Rankings, four spots ahead of France. Switzerland was also ahead of France, perhaps stressing the correctness of FIFA's decision to modify the rankings following this World Cup.
Belgium got by Japan and looked overmatched for most of their 2-1 win over Brazil. That's different than being lucky, but it doesn't flatter Belgium. The media response certainly does. Belgium's "golden generation" is now a major talking point, even for people who watched how they work in game situations. Their adjustments against Japan should've happened much earlier. Their quarterfinal looked like a game that was stubbornly resistant to going Brazil's way.
"This group has to play with no fear at all," Belgium coach Roberto Martinez told ESPN. "If we approach this match with fear within us, we will bring ourselves down and we'd be able to do so much less than what we can actually do. To play without fear would probably be the one thing which would help us the most."
It's easy to look at this World Cup as perfect for a team like Belgium. If they really are the 3rd-best team in the world, they didn't convince many people prior to the start of the tournament. That's turned them into a high-ranked underdog in a tournament that's become about the underdog. Keeping that odd streak going would fit the narrative in Russia.
The NY Times' Sarah Lyall takes in some World Cup press conferences. The Washington Post's Steven Goff looks at the World Cup semifinalists. The Guardian's Stuart James works through Belgium's recent success. Tifo Football's Seb Stafford-Bloor with what's working for England.
RB Leipzig announced Jesse Marsch as an assistant coach on a two-year deal. Ralf Ragnick will coach the Bundesliga club this season. The National's Andy Mitten looks at the link between Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus. Former Italy and Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon officially joins PSG.
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