France & Belgium, rivals on top of the world
Belgium and France are first and second in FIFA World Ranking
The Red Devils hold a one-point advantage over Les Bleus
Their semi-final at Russia 2018 kicked off a lively debate
It is traditional at this time of year to cast a look back over the previous 12 months. When it comes to weighing up best national team of 2018, the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking has a ready-made answer: Belgium. The Red Devils lie a point ahead of France at the top of the standings, though they would surely swap that honour for the title of world champions clinched by in July.
The game itself was won by France after Samuel Umtiti made the difference by heading in from a corner. His goal took Les Bleus within one final step of the promised land – and left the Red Devils nursing heartbreak and regrets.
Did you know?
France have met Belgium 74 times, more than any other nation, but only on three occasions at the World Cup. Before their semi-final in Russia, their most recent encounter at the tournament had been the play-off for third place at Mexico 1986, when France triumphed 4-2 after extra time
What they said
"It's frustrating because we lost to a team that isn't better than us. Today we lost to a team that didn't play at all and just defended." Thibaut Courtois, Belgium goalkeeper
"I prefer losing with this Belgium team than winning with this France team." Eden Hazard, Belgium winger
"I put that down to their huge disappointment. With a bit more distance and a little clarity, perhaps they'll realise we were a lot more dangerous than them. Besides, how did they play against Brazil in the quarter-finals? Like we did against them." Didier Deschamps, France coach (speaking to Le Monde)
24 – At Russia 2018, France ended Belgium's run of 24 matches without defeat. Roberto Martinez's side had not lost since a 2-0 friendly reverse at the hands of Spain on 1 September 2016.
Courtois, Hazard and Deschamps all set the tone as that mouth-watering contest on 10 July 2018 sparked plenty of discussion. The stakes were clearly high and the derby dynamic fed the intrigue, but above all the game provided a clash of football philosophies, with Belgium's flamboyant attacking play pitted against France's ironclad defence. In the end, it was the latter which came out on top.
Since then, the two sides have continued to champion their own approaches to the game. Their momentum also seemed to stall at the same moment. Both missed out on a spot in the UEFA Nations League finals after defeats in the last round of group games, Les Bleus succumbing 2-0 to the Netherlands and the Red Devils losing 5-2 to Switzerland.
Despite those setbacks, France head into 2019 as world champions and Belgium sit proudly atop the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, setting them both apart as the big winners on the global stage this year.
Did you know?
Belgium have the upper hand in head-to-head contests, having won 41 per cent to France's 33 per cent, but the French have triumphed in each of their tournament encounters.