10th July, 2018
France have advanced to their third World Cup final after defender Samuel Umtiti headed in the lone goal in the second half of a fiery 1-0 semifinal win over Belgium.
Umtiti broke the deadlock 12 minutes after halftime with a glancing header that flew past goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to give France the decisive advantage on Wednesday morning (AEST).
Umtiti led defensive midfielder Marouane Fellaini to the ball, who was caught napping from a clean corner by Antoine Griezmann, as the defender found the back of the net.
It was an explosive first 45 minutes of play despite the 0-0 scoreline, with chances aplenty for both sides.
Belgium took early control of the midfield with France happy to sit back and thwart of attacks and prevent the Belgians’ counter-attack strength.
Kevin De Bruyne provided the first real opening in the 16th minute, hooking the ball into the path of Eden Hazard whose shot flew fast the far post.
Griezmann failed to add to his three-goal tally this World Cup after a golden opportunity with a free kick which he rocketed into the wall.
Hazard was dangerous again moments later when he dipped left and hit a stunning ball before clipping Raphael Varane and flashing over the bar.
French sensation also Kylian Mbappe threatened with a sterling cross into the box to Benjamin Pavard, but a flailing leg from Courtois fended off the shot.
Mbappe’s early skill and speed set the tone for France, as the 19-year-old blew out of the blocks, setting up Griezmann just five seconds into the match.
Once in front, France sat back even further and gave space for Paul Pogba and Mbappe to exploit, almost creating a second goal with a skilful back heel that freed Olivier Giroud.
The Red Devils forced a number of mini-crises for France late in the piece, culmitating with a free kick outside the box in the 87th minute.
A great driven ball from De Bruyne was just ahead of Romelu Lukaku, as the French defence stood strong against repeated attacks.
Six minutes of extra time brought French hearts no relief, with back-and-fourth swings of momentum.
Fellaini flashed a header just wide and Axel Witsel forced a good save out of Lloris.
Belgium appeared frustrated in the dying minutes, as Jan Vertonghen shoved Mbappe in the back, earning the Tottenham Hotspur player a yellow card with less than two minutes to play.
Mbappe was given a yellow card only moments earlier for time wasting.
Courtios was called upon again to keep Belgium’s slim hopes of an equaliser alive with a one-on-one save against Griezmann, but proved fruitless as the Belgians ran out of time.
Didier Deschamps’ side will face England or Croatia in Moscow on Sunday.
The French look to lift the trophy for the second time since their triumph on home soil in 1998.