RT special World Cup host Jose Mourinho said Belgium’s players were “hiding,” but he heaped praise on France midfielder Paul Pogba, who helped his side reach the 2018 World Cup final by virtue of a 1-0 win in St. Petersburg.
Speaking from an RT studio in Manchester, Mourinho admitted he “smelled a match without many goals” and that the game could have stayed at 0-0 or even 1-1. In actuality, Samuel Umtiti’s 51st-minute goal was enough to book France’s final date.
However, the Manchester United boss singled out Pogba, his charge at Old Trafford, for particular praise, heralding the player's “mature” performance but also criticizing many of the Belgian players for “hiding” on the biggest stage.
“That happened what we could expect – one goal would win it, and one goal would create some reaction and that happened,” two-time Champions League winner Mourinho said. “More space for France to counterattack, more initiative from Belgium. But I think the Belgium players they go home with a bad feeling. A feeling that we could do more and better, a feeling that probably Hazard was out of it, because he tried absolutely everything.
“Many of the other players they kept hiding, and a little bit more in the last 20-25 minutes. But they are much better than that. And for me, big occasions, big players, and many of the players they were not there in the big occasion.
“France was good at the basic things of the game. They defended well, the were compact. They scored a goal that probably is Fellaini is the last man to touch it but the they score and they try to control the game which basically they did.
“I think a very good performance by Pogba, Pogba was mature, we played with maturity when he had, to hold position and keep control of the play he did.
“When Deschamps took off Giroud to bring on N’Zonzi, then Pogba had more freedom but had freedom not to do silly things, he had freedom to keep the ball away from dangerous areas, to keep the ball, to assist Griezmann for a great chance, he was very very mature."
Umtiti’s goal, a header from a Griezmann corner, was the 69th at this World Cup to be scored from a set piece, out of the total 158. Giving an insight into his managerial nous, Mourinho explained set piece training ideally fits the World Cup schedule, which results in a reduced reliance on goals from open play.
“Set pieces that are something that you can train without damage more of your physical conditions. And when you are in the comp like this where cumulation of fatigue counts, you have just to recover, the its very difficult to recover. The you have the tactical situations, which create even more spending of energy, opening the door for more small injuries - so what can you train? Set plays,” the former Porto and Real Madrid coach said.
“You don't run you don’t spend any of your energetic sources, you do it in a relaxed way, you do it as part of your recovering session and you go for the set pieces and you develop the set pieces and you become really dangerous on that then that can be in this case happen in the space between of Witsel and Fellaini.
“Umtiti attacks the ball very well in the space, but the most important thing is the serviсe and the service was fast, was exactly in that spot, and then Umtiti comes and between Umtiti and Fellaini they give no chance to Courtois.”
Mourinho also praised the young French side consisting of Raphael Varane, Antoine Griezmann and Theo Hernandez, that had two seasons ago reached the Euro 2016 final, and expressed belief that the team would reach many more final matches.
The current French setup will play either England or Croatia in the final. Those two teams play each other in the other semi-final match on Wednesday at Luzhniki Stadium, which will also host the tournament’s climax on July 15. Looking ahead to the last four encounter, Mourinho said he believes England will enter the tie fresher.
“I think England is fresher, has younger players, had a easy group phase, where they play two easy match and the match against Belgium they change every player. So the players that are playing now they all had one match less than Croatia to play," he said.
"I think Croatia has a great mentality, a fantastic midfield player to control the game and the possession of the game but England is a happy team, is a team you look at them and you see happiness, is a team that they went from even candidate to candidate and I just hope that they are themselves and not like Belgium that the majority of the players were not themselves. In big matches you have to be yourself or a bit better.”
England are looking to reach their first final match since winning the tournament at their home World Cup in 1966, while Croatia, participating in their second World Cup semi-final, are looking to make their first ever final appearance.