Samuel Umtiti’s 51st-minute header sent an impressive France into the World Cup final with a 1-0 victory over Belgium in an absorbing first semi-final on Tuesday.
Didier Deschamps’ side will face either England or Croatia in Moscow on Sunday as the French look to lift the trophy for the second time after their 1998 home triumph.
In an exciting tactical match, once again it was a set piece that proved decisive with Umtiti’s header hitting the near post from Antoine Griezmann’s corner to settle matters.
Belgium took control of the midfield early with France content to sit deep and remove the threat of counter-attacks from Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne.
But it was by no means a purely negative approach as the French offered their own danger at half-time, perfectly illustrated when Paul Pogba’s delivery sent Kylian Mbappe running towards goal and Belgium were thankful their goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was on the alert to put out the ball. danger.
The first real start came in the 16th minute when De Bruyne hooked the ball into the path of Hazard, whose shot narrowly missed Huge Lloris’s far post.
Hazard was dangerous again moments later when he sliced in from the left and unleashed a rough shot that sliced into Raphael Varane’s back and sailed just over the crossbar.
From a Belgium corner, Toby Alderweireld tested Lloris with a clever shot into the turn, but as the half wore on France began to create more.
Olivier Giroud headed just wide and Mbappé set up Benjamin Pavard, whose low shot was deflected by Courtois’ outstretched leg.
It was a fascinating first half and all that was missing was a goal, but it came shortly after the break.
From a Griezmann corner, Umtiti beat Marouane Fellaini at the near post and headed in to put France ahead.
Fellaini headed a header just wide and Axel Witsel forced a fine save from Lloris as Belgium advanced for an equalizer and France held on six minutes into stoppage time to book their place in the final.
France coach Didier Deschamps praised the character of his young team after they beat Belgium 1-0 on Tuesday to prepare for a World Cup final against either England or Croatia in Moscow.
Samuel Umtiti’s 51st-minute header at the Saint Petersburg Stadium sent the French into the final, where they will be seeking their second victory since 1998, when Deschamps captained them at home.
“It was exceptional,” Deschamps said in a fieldside interview.
“I am very happy for my players, we showed character and the right mentality, it was very difficult for us tonight. We work hard defensively.
“We had to get a little more advantage on the counterattacks, but congratulations to my players and my coaching staff. I feel very proud of my group,” said Deschamps, who aims to join Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer and Brazil’s Mario Zagallo as the only men who have won the World Cup as a player and coach.