Dubai: Samuel Umtiti’s header sent France through to the World Cup final with a narrow 1-0 win over Belgium in Tuesday’s first semi in St. Petersburg.
It ended Belgium’s 24-match unbeaten run and left the Red Devils’ golden generation failing to surpass their earlier best semi-finals finish, which was set in 1986.
With this win, France returns to the final for only the third time in their history after first winning it at home against Brazil in 1998 and then losing on penalties to Italy in Germany in 2006.
They will now play the winners of Wednesday’s second semi-final in Moscow between England and Croatia in Sunday’s final, which will also be held in the Russian capital.
Eden Hazard had a shot headed over by Raphael Varane and keeper Hugo Lloris tipped Toby Alderweireld’s effort clear in the best of Belgium’s first half chances, just before the half hour.
France fought back however, and would have gone ahead just before half-time but for the leg of keeper Thibaut Courtois, which denied Benjamin Pavard who shot from close range after being thread through on goal by Kylian Mbappe.
After the break, Samuel Umtiti finally broke the deadlock for Les Bleus on 51 minutes beating marker Marouane Fellaini at the near post to head in Antoine Griezmann’s corner.
Fellaini almost made up for it after the hour when he headed Dries Merten’s cross agonisingly wide, before Axel Witzel’s long shot forced a parry from Lloris with 10 minutes remaining.
Griezmann and Corentin Tulisso both had late efforts saved, but in the end the match, which was dubbed the final before the final, failed to live up to expectation.
Interestingly, the game fell on the same day as Cristiano Ronaldo’s €112 million move from Real Madrid to Juventus. One of the subplots coming into the match was who, between France’s Kylian Mbappe and Belgium’s Eden Hazard, would state a claim to become Ronaldo’s successor at the Santiago Bernabeu behind first choice Neymar.
On the evidence of this game, Mbappe probably edged Hazard and now has another even more important match with which to prove his worth in the final.