Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper confident that the 1998 world champions can get past a confident Belgian side in Saint Petersburg
Hugo Lloris vows France must have 'no regrets' against Belgium in World Cup semi-final
Hugo Lloris described it as peculiar and that felt about right.
On Tuesday, when the France captain lines up against Belgium in Saint Petersburg, for a place in the World Cup final, he will look across at the opposition and see a lot of extremely familiar faces.
Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Mousa Dembele, current Tottenham Hotspur teammates. Nacer Chadli, a former colleague.
On the bench, too, where Thierry Henry, France’s leading goalscorer with whom he once shared an international dressing room, now serves as Belgium’s assistant manager. "His heart will be split," offered Loris on Monday.
So peculiar about sums it up. Yet friendships will have to be put on hold. For 90 minutes, 120, or perhaps even more. After all, it is a World Cup semi-final.
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“We do know them very well,” Lloris said. “All their players play in great clubs, most in the Premier League, so we know them more than well. And they know us more than well. There are going to be great players on the pitch, it’s going to be a great match and we have to live it fully.
“And, most importantly, we’re going to have to leave the pitch with no regrets; with the impression we’ve given everything.”
Moderate and measured, Lloris is hardly the tub-thumping type. Still, he spoke in front of the assembled media at Saint Petersburg Stadium of rising to the challenge the following night, of France being better than they were in the last-16 victory against Argentina (4-3) or the quarter-final win against Uruguay (2-0). He understands they need to be, given the their next opponents.
Belgium are packed with talent, fronted by Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne, all Premier League rivals. They have been instated as tournament favourites following their 2-1 triumph against Brazil in Kazan on Friday. Theirs is that so-called "Golden Generation".
So, even though Belgium have yet to win a World Cup – France were champions 20 years ago and runners-up in 2006 – clearly Lloris recognises the current crop's potential.
“The Belgium team is the most complete team in all aspects during this tournament, because the team can defend and attack,” the Spurs goalkeeper said. “They are strong everywhere. They have everything they need to be great team and they are a great team. It is a fantastic generation.
“They are going to arrive tomorrow with a lot of confidence, and we’re going to need an incredibly great French team tomorrow in order to succeed.
We have to be ready to suffer, but we will be ready. Because we’re in an extremely good state of mind and also it’s the semi-finals of a World Cup. So that’s it. That is an opportunity in our career and we have to grab it with both hands.”
It helps that the France team is not half bad, either. Finalists at the 2016 Euros, they have experience but an electrifying young group, as well. Kylian Mbappe, 19, has been one of the stars of the tournament.
Lloris debuted for France when Mbappe was nine. He captained his national team in the final defeat, in extra-time, to Portugal on home soil two years ago. Now, a relatively remodelled French side is aiming for another shot at a major title.
“We have the opportunity to make a mark in the history of French football,” Lloris said. “We are closer to our goal, but we know it’s getting more and more difficult. The opposition tomorrow will be even stronger than our previous opponents.
“There is a good mix: we have experienced players, and especially this new generation, it has incredible potential. We do not know their limits at the moment. We’re trying to use anything that’s positive inside this team so we can go beyond our limits and try to grab what is the most beautiful thing in football. As I said before, it’s going to be an important step for all of our careers.”