‘We have to give a lot of credit to France for the way they defended’

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said luck was against his side as it fell short against France in the World Cup semifinal on Tuesday, losing 1-0 here as the ‘golden generation’ saw another chance slip away.

A Samuel Umtiti header from a corner was the difference between the European neighbours, with Belgium enjoying most of the possession without managing to break down a superb French defence.

“It was a very tight game. There were not many big moments that were going to decide the game and it came down to one dead-ball situation,” said Martinez of the 51st-minute goal that separated the sides.

“We had the ball and I think we have to give a lot of credit to France for the way they defended — they were very deep, they gave us a lot of respect in that way and yet we couldn’t find a bit of margin in front of goal, a little bit of luck.

“That was the difference, but if you’re going to lose, I’m so proud of the players. You have to accept it and congratulate France and wish them luck in the final.”

Belgium had beaten Brazil in the quarterfinals but were hindered by the absence of suspended right-back Thomas Meunier against the French.

Midfielder Mousa Dembele came into its starting line-up, yet Martinez’s side seemed to miss the attacking thrust of Meunier down the flank.

“I didn’t see France running away with the game. It just came down to very small margins — the first goal was going to be vital.”

Belgium had won all five matches in Russia coming into its meeting with the French, and had scored 14 goals in the process.

There will be no first World Cup final for the Red Devils, and instead they must now try to lift themselves for the third-place play-off, back in St. Petersburg on Saturday.

‘Finish on a high’

“It’s a really sad dressing room now, because the opportunity of being in the final was the only focus we had,” added Martinez.

“We could easily have frozen. France were in the final of the Euros, but I don’t want any of my players to be frustrated or disappointed.

“We want to finish on a high, and these players deserve to finish on a high.”

Martinez added: “It is a difficult emotion to manage — you are disappointed because you have lost the semifinal, and it is hard to see the opportunity of playing another game as a real positive.”

Belgium can still achieve its best-ever finish at a World Cup, bettering its performance in 1986, when it lost to Argentina in the semifinals and then lost to the French in the third-place game.

This World Cup has represented progress for a team which lost in the quarterfinals of the 2014 tournament in Brazil and at Euro 2016.

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