Late victory: Ex-Bundesliga star redeems France


Lerato Khumalo

The duel between the top stars remained open for a long time, and the decision was only made a few minutes before the end – by a deflected shot from a former Bundesliga striker.

Despite its still sluggish offensive department, France has struggled into the quarter-finals and can dream of its first European title in 24 years. In a long, tough and hard-fought duel with Domenico Tedesco’s Belgians, the team led by masked man Kylian Mbappé won 1-0 (0-0) and is in the last eight for the first time since 2016.

A shot by substitute ex-Frankfurt player Randal Kolo Muani was decisively deflected into Belgium’s own goal by veteran defender Jan Vertonghen (85th minute). UEFA officially classified the goal as an own goal. The vice world champions had already benefited from an own goal in their first appearance, also in Düsseldorf, against Austria.

France made positive sporting headlines amidst the debate about the shift to the right in their own country. In the quarter-finals on Friday in Hamburg (9 p.m./ZDF and Magenta TV) they will face Portugal or outsider Slovenia.

For German coach Tedesco and Belgium, however, a disappointing tournament ended early. At the last two European Championships, Belgium, who finished third at the 2018 World Cup, reached the quarter-finals, but now the former “Golden Generation” is likely to face a final upheaval.

Both teams had dragged themselves into the knockout rounds with mixed performances, but now things were finally looking to improve. France was naturally hoping for Mbappé, who was returning to the place where he broke his nose against Austria. His protective face mask, which he himself described as “horror”, should not have a negative influence – even if the 25-year-old was already constantly fiddling with it during the warm-up.

Coach Didier Deschamps made two changes compared to the weak 1-1 draw against Poland, with Marcus Thuram and Antoine Griezmann joining Mbappé in attack. His counterpart Tedesco, meanwhile, put Leipzig’s Lois Openda in the starting eleven for the first time at this European Championship, playing in a double attack alongside the VAR ill-fated Romelu Lukaku.

At first, the Belgians let the opponent have a lot of possession and waited for quick transitions. Mbappe was also not supposed to pose a threat – and was therefore often attacked by two Belgian players in the final third.

And so the French lacked any bright ideas. Instead, Belgium approached the opponent’s goal for the first time. Keeper Mike Maignan parried a deflected free kick from Kevin De Bruyne with an unorthodox foot (24′). Shortly afterwards, Theo Hernandez blocked an attempt by Yannick Carrasco at the last moment (27′).

Belgium was now playing better – and Mbappé was still almost no factor. Symbolically, he slipped in a promising position in the 29th minute, and his frustration was clearly evident.

One of the few scoring opportunities came out of nowhere, but his header went just wide of the post (34′). Immediately before the break, Mbappé broke away from his two markers and found Aurelien Tchouameni, whose attempt flew over the goal (45’+1). As he went into the dressing room, Mbappé took off his mask and shook his head – things had to get better.

And France came out of the dressing room on the offensive. Koen Casteels parried Tchouameni’s deflected ball (49th minute), and seven minutes later captain Mbappé missed the goal from a good position. The French now pressed harder, while Belgium defended with all their might. There was relief from the dangerous attempts by Lukaku (71st minute) and De Bruyne (83rd minute). But then France struck luckily.