France's Samuel Umtiti, foreground center, celebrates with teammates after the 2018 World Cup semifinal match between France and Belgium at St. Petersburg Stadium in, St. Petersburg, Russia, July 10, 2018. (FRANK AUGSTEIN / AP)
MOSCOW - The semifinals 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 semifinals 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 the half time, Croatia dominated the midfield, while England struggled to put 3 passes together and never looked like getting back in front after Perisic's equalizer.
England's Kieran Trippier (left) reacts after missing the ball during the 2018 World Cup semifinal match between Croatia and England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia, July 11, 2018. (MATTHIAS SCHRADER / AP)
2. SET PIECES ONCE AGAIN PROVED 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 semifinal displays and be disappointed they failed to maintain the level of performance they showed in the last 16 and quarterfinals. 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 BALLON D'OR?
Croatia's Luka Modric celebrates with head coach Zlatko Dalic (right), after advancing to the finals, during the 2018 World Cup semifinal match between Croatia and England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia, July 11, 2018. (FRANK AUGSTEIN / AP)
The usual contenders for the Ballon D'or (i.e. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo) fell by the wayside in the last 16 after disappointing World Cups, so finally, we should have the chance to see another winner for the Ballon D'or this World Cup.
Kylian Mbappe or Antoine Griezmann could have a chance if France win the title, but if Croatia become the champions (or maybe even if they're 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 else does.
France's Kylian Mbappe reacts during the 2018 World Cup semifinal match between France and Belgium at the St. Petersburg Stadium in St. Petersburg, Russia, July 10, 2018. (MARTIN MEISSNER / AP)