Wednesday’s international friendly between Belgium and France was an exhibition of well-timed tackles, good goalkeeping and poor finishing. While goals seemed inevitable for spells during the first-half, things rather petered out after the restart as the sides settled for a scoreless draw in Brussels.
A look at the starting lineups did nothing to indicate the stalemate to come. Both managers deployed strong lineups—the French XI, including debutant Geoffrey Kondogbia and returning defender Eric Abidal. But the likes of Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema were also included on Didier Deschamps' side, and on the other side of the ball, Belgium boss Marc Wilmots had Eden Hazard, Marouane Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku on the field from the opening whistle.
It was Lukaku who showed the first signs that a memorable evening might be afoot at King Baudouin Stadium.
Less than a minute had ticked off the clock when the Chelsea forward burst through the French defense, and while his teammates were unable to find him on that occasion, Kevin De Bruyne did well to pick him out shortly after the quarter-hour mark, only for Arsenal centre-back Laurent Koscielny to deny him at the last instant.
It was the first clash in the evening’s most compelling head-to-head matchup.
Less than 10 minutes later, with Belgium pressing high up the field, Koscielny disrupted the buildup again, and in the 26th minute France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris had to be alert to race off his line and beat Lukaku to the ball.
De Bruyne was making things happen for the hosts at this point, and it seemed only a matter of time before they finally broke through.
But the next chance fell to France—Ribery crossing into the box and forcing Belgium keeper Thibaut Courtois to block off Benzema.
Belgium’s final chance of the first half, and perhaps their best of the opening period, fell to De Bruyne in the 38th minute when, capitalizing on a rare mistake by Koscielny, he directed his effort just wide of goal from in close.
Then it was Benzema who missed a sitter. Ribery had once again set the Real Madrid striker up brilliantly, only for the bearded forward to launch the ball high over the cross-bar from the edge of the area.
The second half had little of the first’s intensity, although Lukaku quite nearly found the back of the net in the 53rd minute when his shot was clipped onto and past the post by Lloris. It was Lukaku’s final action of the contest as he was replaced by Christian Benteke seven minutes later.
Meanwhile, De Bruyne continued to make things happen for the Red Devils, and when Wilmots made his next round of changes he left the Chelsea midfielder on the park in favour of Eden Hazard, who was substituted.
But it was a France substitute—Olivier Giroud—who quite nearly broke the deadlock in the 85th minute.
Getting into position to receive a cross from Samir Nasri, who was making his first appearances for Les Bleus since Euro 2012, the Arsenal striker volleyed over the bar after the ball took a slight deflection.
Belgium will look to extend their lead atop UEFA World Cup Qualification Group A on September 6 when they face Scotland in Glasgow. France, who trail Spain by a single point in Group I, will be in Tbilisi the same day for a match against Georgia.
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