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News brief

July 12, 2018

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French media foresee trophy coming home

PARIS: France’s march into the World Cup final dominated the nation’s headlines on Wednesday, with many already predicting a second title for ‘Les Bleus’ in Moscow on Sunday no matter who they face.

“The Blue Dream Continues” wrote Le Figaro after a night of celebrations by fans who poured into the streets after the 1-0 win over Belgium, watched by 19 million according to French broadcaster TF1.

“Didier Deschamps is still on track to join Brazilian legend Mario Zagalle and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer, the only two heros who have reigned over planet football as both player and coach,” the broadsheet wrote.

Deschamps was captain when France won their first World Cup in 1998, a victory which sparked an outpouring of national pride and jubilation still vivid for millions.

“Les Bleus grabbed the Devils by the tail in a spectacular match,” wrote Le Parisien, confident the team is already “at the gates of paradise”.

No matter if they end up facing England or Croatia, “they’ll be the favourites for the ultimate title,” the paper claimed, dubbing the team ‘The Incredibles’.

“There’s no Zinedine Zidane but a bunch of great players surrounded by good players. It’s more of a team, a collective instead of a group gathered around a genius.”

“There’s still one match to go, but they’ve got a freeway in front of them and no more toll booths,” Yeo Mariba, the mother of midfielder Paul Pogba, told the paper while leaving the stadium in St Petersburg.—AFP

Brussels metro plays rival anthem after lost bet

BRUSSELS: Brussels commuters, heading to work the morning after Belgium’s painful World Cup loss to France, had to endure the French football anthem piped through the city’s metro on Wednesday.

The reason: not only did the national team lose 1-0 in Tuesday’s semi-final but also the Brussels public transport authority lost a bet with its Parisian counterpart.

Before the match, the two groups challenged each other on social media. If Belgium won, Paris would change signs at its Saint-Lazare station to ‘Saint Hazard’ in honour of Belgian whirlwind midfielder Eden Hazard.

But after the ‘Golden Generation’s’ defeat in St Petersburg, Brussels instead had to ‘treat’ travellers to the anthem ‘Tous Ensemble’ — All together — by late French rocker Johnny Hallyday at 8:00 and 10:00am.

At least Hallyday’s father was a Belgian. The country honoured the singer’s heritage when he died last year, playing his greatest hits on trains and over loudspeakers on the Grand Place in central Brussels.—Reuters

Courtois terms France win as ‘shame for football’

ST PETERSBURG: Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois said his team’s defeat by France in the World Cup semi-final on Tuesday was a ‘shame for football’, criticising Didier Deschamps’s side for a defensive style of play. Centre-back Samuel Umtiti’s 51st-minute header carried France to their third World Cup final.

“It was a frustrating match. France didn’t play at all, they defended with 11 players within 40 metres of their goal,” Chelsea goalkeeper Courtois told Belgian TV channel RTBF.

“They played on the counter-attack with [Kylian] Mbappe, who is very quick. That’s their right. They know when an opponent plays very deep, that’s where we have problems.

“The frustration is there because we didn’t lose to a team who are better than us, we lost to a team who play nothing, just defend. Against Uruguay [in the quarter-final] they scored with a free-kick and a goalkeeping error. And here they scored from a corner. It’s a shame for football that Belgium didn’t win.”—AFP

Pogba dedicates win to rescued Thai boys

ST PETERSBURG: Paul Pogba has paused after the biggest win of his international career to dedicate it to the Thai football team whose last five members were freed from a flooded cave hours earlier.

The final members were rescued from a flooded Thai cave on Tuesday after spending 18 harrowing days trapped deep inside, completing an astonishing against-the-odds rescue mission that captivated the world.

Following the 1-0 win in St Petersburg, Manchester United midfielder Pogba tweeted: “This victory goes to the heroes of the day, well done boys, you are so strong.”

FIFA boss Gianni Infantino had invited the boys’ Wild Boars football team to Sunday’s World Cup final last week. But FIFA said it had been informed “that due to medical reasons, the boys will not be in a position to travel to Moscow”.

“FIFA’s priority remains the health of everyone involved in the operation and we will look into finding a new opportunity to invite the boys to a FIFA event to share with them a moment of communion and celebration,” a spokesman said.—Agencies

Convicted Croatia official to watch semi-final

MOSCOW: FIFA has let a top Croatian football official watch the team’s World Cup semi-final against England from a VIP section on Wednesday despite him being convicted last month in a corruption case linked to the transfer of Luka Modric.

When Croatia beat Russia in the quarter-final on Saturday, the football federation’s CEO-like director general sat in the same row of seats as his nation’s President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Damir Vrbanovic has retained his position since being sentenced by a court in Croatia in June to a three-year jail term though Article 68 of FIFA’s disciplinary code bars officials “convicted of a criminal offence in the past five years.” However, FIFA has decided that the sentence is not final because the former Dinamo Zagreb director general is appealing to a higher court.

Published in Dawn, July 12th, 2018