Willian, Hazard wow as Chelsea rout Cardiff

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Eden Hazard scored a hat trick while Willian was the star of the second half as Chelsea overcame an early concession to rock Cardiff City 4-1 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Hazard’s first two goals were set-up by Olivier Giroud, while Willian scored a beauty and drew the penalty kick that became Hazard’s third.

Chelsea goes ahead of Liverpool on goal differential to lead the table, while Cardiff is one point ahead of the Bottom Three.

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Cardiff took a shock lead, with Bamba in position to deposit a Sean Morrison flick beyond the reach of Kepa Arrizabalaga.

Pedro missed a significant chance to make it 1-1, failing to challenge Neil Etheridge with a 36th minute shot.

It was one of several first half chances created by the Blues that did not have appropriate finish.

Hazard, however, did when he worked a 1-2 with Olivier Giroud to slot a gorgeous low shot inside the far post.

And it wasn’t long after the Giroud stuck out a leg to perfectly set up Hazard for his second of the game.

Pedro missed making it 3-0, set up by Antonio Rudiger in the 62nd minute.

And it could’ve been 2-2 out of nowhere had Bobby Reid not dragged his shot wide of goal.

That’s when Willian stepped to the front, earning a penalty that Hazard converted for his hat trick and then scoring a gorgeous curling shot from outside the 18 to make it 4-1.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

WATCH: Giroud, Hazard combine twice to lead Chelsea comeback

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Cardiff City’s joy at an early lead over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge was dashed by a pair of in-form attackers.

Olivier Giroud assisted a pair of Eden Hazard goals, the first a sensational 1-2, as the Blues came from behind to take a 2-1 halftime lead.

[ WATCH: Zaha nets stunner ]

That goal is above, the Belgian’s equalizer well worked with his French forward.

The second was in-tight, with Giroud sticking out a leg to deftly set-up Hazard for a finish behind Neil Etheridge.

Top three battles in 2018 World Cup Final

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The World Cup Final is Sunday, and there are three areas which could tip the scales in favor of a Croatian upset or an expected French title.

[ MORE: PST’s World Cup roundtable ]

Kante and Pogba vs. Modric, Rakitic, Brozovic

Yes, Antoine Griezmann is a midfielder, but he’s a fourth forward if N'Golo Kante and Paul Pogba are at their very best. Croatia’s midfield triangle has been responsible for much of its World Cup success, and will need to keep that up if it hopes to collect an upset.

Mandzukic renews acquaintances with La Liga CBs…

Two goals in the Champions League semifinals against Real Madrid, one the year before in the final, and an assist in that UCL run-up versus Barcelona.

So, yes, Real’s Raphael Varane and Barca’s Samuel Umtiti have tangled with him a time or two. And the big Croatian striker Mandzukic really seems to be rounding into form.

…And Giroud versus Lovren and Co.

Olivier Giroud has yet to score in the tournament, but sleeping on his industrious performance up top is a mistake. Dejan Lovren has branded himself “one of the best defenders in the world” based on this tournament and his Champions League run with Liverpool.

If France needs to whip crosses toward Giroud, we’d expect things could look a bit like the below highlight reel. Check around the 1:00 mark of this video:

Giroud aims to prove countryman, foe Henry wrong at World Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) — If only France’s young players had an outstanding ex-pro they could turn to for advice about how to beat Belgium in the World Cup semifinals, someone who won the World Cup himself in 1998 and who scored more goals than anyone in his stellar career with Les Bleus.

Oh.

Not only is Thierry Henry already taken, but the team that hired France’s record scorer as an assistant coach is, yes, you guessed it … Belgium.

[ VIDEO: England fans celebrate World Cup win over Sweden at IKEA ]

France striker Olivier Giroud is turning Henry’s presence on the opposing side into an extra source of motivation for Tuesday’s semifinal, which is France’s first since 2006 and only the second ever for Belgium.

“I would be proud to show Titi that he chose the wrong camp,” Giroud said Sunday, referring to Henry by his nickname. “It is true that it is strange to have him against us for this match. I think it will be a peculiar match for him. As long as we win, that’s fine with me.”

Henry was part of the 1998 team that won the World Cup on home turf, scoring three goals in his first major tournament and converting a penalty in a nerve-rattling shootout against Italy in the quarterfinals. Henry did not play in the 3-0 final victory for Les Bleus over Brazil.

[ France: Why they’ll win the World Cup ]

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez brought Henry into the Belgium setup two years ago to impart not just his knowledge of goal scoring — he is France’s all-time top scorer with 51 goals in 123 appearances, and Arsenal’s with 228 — but also his experience of winning with a team weighed down by great expectations.

Giroud said Henry could coach France in the future and that working with Belgium will help the 40-year-old gain experience in his new career as a coach.

“He is lucky to be with a team with a fine generation of players. He is there to learn,” Giroud said. “I would have preferred that he was with us and that he was giving his advice to me or to the other attackers. But we mustn’t be jealous or anything about that. It doesn’t shock me at all.”

[ MORE: Ranking World Cup semifinalists | Schedule for semis, final ]

Previously, as a TV pundit, Henry suggested Giroud wasn’t good enough, saying in 2015 that Arsenal couldn’t win the Premier League with him in attack and needed “a top, top-quality striker.”

Giroud, now with Chelsea, says he bears no hard feelings.

For TV work, Henry “needed to be a bit incisive,” he said. “I am not at all bitter about that.”

“It’s been a few years now that he said certain things in the media before going back on his words or at least changing them,” Giroud said. “There is a lot of respect between us.”

Why they’ll win the World Cup: France

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First of all, relax — This is part of a four-post series making the case for each of four World Cup semifinalists in their respective bids to win the 2018 edition of the tournament.

That said, let’s talk about why France will be lifting the World Cup trophy on July 15 in Moscow.

[ RECAP: Belgium ousts Brazil ]

Why France will win the tournament: Following a 2-0 defeat of Uruguay in Friday’s quarterfinal, manager Didier Deschamps noted that Les Bleus relative inexperience peeks out at times.

That might be helping France, who has built its tournament acumen back up following the embarrassment of 2010 in South Africa. France lost to eventual champions Spain at EURO 2012, then again fell to a champion when Germany knocked the French out at the quarterfinal stage of the 2014 World Cup.

The French then (mostly) bossed the home EURO 2016 and the final despite losing to Eder‘s extra time tally in setting the stage for this summer in Russia.

France has survived legacy-desperate Lionel Messi and Argentina (just, really) and a feisty Uruguay despite still waiting to get consistent star turns from Samuel Umtiti and Hugo Lloris (though the backstop made a magnificent save late in the first half Friday versus the South American side.

Olivier Giroud, a man known for big goals, also is still waiting to break onto the score sheet. France has thrived through a kid (Kylian Mbappe), a dominating should-be Ballon d’Or candidate (N'Golo Kante), and two stars attackers doing it loudly (Antoine Griezmann) and quietly (Paul Pogba).

Throw in Raphael Varane, and France has been steady up the middle. If they can get past Belgium, which this post assumes they do thanks to the title, find us a team on the other side of the bracket equipped to punish the French. England? Sweden? Russia?

No, it would come down to Croatia. And right now we’d sign up for that feast of football… and expect Les Bleus to emerge victorious.