By Paul Giblin
MOSCOW, July 12 (Xinhua) -- The semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup have left us with two finalists and two teams who have tasted the bitterness of falling at the last hurdle: here are some things we learned over the past two days.
1. The best teams won
The two semi-finals were both won by narrow one-goal margins, but it's hard not to agree that the best teams won. France were incredibly solid against Belgium who just lacked their usually cutting edge, while the French continue to look impressive and although it was a corner which decided the game Belgium's Courtois was the busier keeper.
England had their chances against Croatia in the first half of Croatia's 2-1 win and who knows what would have happened if Harry Kane had taken a guilt edged chance rather than hitting the post before the break, but after halftime Croatia dominated midfield, while England struggled to put 3 passes together and never looked like getting back in front after Perisic's equalizer.
2. Set pieces one again vital
France's winning goal came from a corner while England's opener was a direct free kick, superbly taken by the impressive Kieran Trippier. That means that 70 out of 161 goals scored at this World Cup have come from set pieces. Maybe VAR is making it harder for defenders to get away with grappling in the penalty areas and maybe sides are just doing their homework on the practice ground, but dead ball situations continue to be vital.
3. The World Cup takes its toll
Both England and Belgium will look at their semi-final displays and be disappointed their failed to maintain the level of performance they showed in the last 16 and quarter-finals. Both sides lacked their usual crispness of passing and lost possession too many times. Was it big-game nerves? Or did playing six-games in under four weeks take its toll. Its true France and Croatia have played the same number of games, but being able to manage tiredness levels is also part of winning a major tournament.
4. Modric for the Ballon D'Or?
The usual contenders for the Ballon D'or (ie Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo) fell by the wayside in the last 16 after disappointing World Cups, so at last we should have the chance to see another winner of this season's Ballon D'or. Kylian Mbappe or Antoine Griezmann could be in with a chance of France win the title, but if Croatia can do it (any maybe even in not) Luka Modric is also a strong candidate: if helping steer Real Madrid to a third consecutive Champions League title and getting Croatia to their first ever World Cup final doesn't make a strong case, I don't know what does.