France qualified for the 2018 World Cup final with a 1-0 win over Belgium in Saint Petersburg. Samuel Umtiti headed in a corner swung in by Antoine Griezmann in the 51st-minute to give France the lead. They managed to shut out Belgium after that and will now face either England or Croatia in Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium on Sunday.
Didier Deschamps’ side started the match on the backfoot with Belgium hitting them with wave after wave of attacks. Belgium was missing influential fullback Thomas Meunier due to his suspension and had replaced him with Moussa Dembele. The heavily loaded Belgian midfield seemed to overwhelm the French in the early exchanges and the latter was struggling to get a touch on the ball. But they picked up the pace and started asking serious questions of their own in the latter half of the first 45 minutes and it was 0-0 at half-time.
Despite all the attacks, it was once again a set-piece that proved decisive with Umtiti’s near-post header giving France the lead. Belgium brought on the likes of Dries Mertens and loaded the box. Romelu Lukaku, who was starved of deliveries in the first half, couldn’t convert the chances he got in the second half due to France’s staunch defending. Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard made repeated forays into the French box but the combination of Raphael Varane, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, and defensive midfielder Blaise Matuidi kept them out. Matuidi had to be subbed off after a sickening collision with Hazard.
This was Belgium manager Roberto Martinez’s first competitive defeat as Belgium manager. He said after that match that there he was disappointed that they were done in by a set-piece.
“Unfortunately for us, the difference was a dead-ball situation. The game was very close, very tight and it was going to be decided by a little bit of luck in front of goal,” he said.
Belgium took early control of midfield with France content to sit deep and eliminate the threat of counter-attacks Hazard and De Bruyne.
But it was by no means a purely negative approach as the French offered their own danger on the break, perfectly illustrated when Paul Pogba’s delivery sent Kylian Mbappe racing towards goal and Belgium were thankful their keeper Thibaut Courtois was alert to snuff out the danger.
The first real opening came in the 16th minute when De Bruyne hooked the ball into the path of Hazard whose shot was just wide of Huge Lloris’s far post.
Hazard was dangerous again moments later when he cut in from the left and unleashed a rasping drive which clipped off the back of Raphael Varane and just over the bar.
From a Belgium corner, Toby Alderweireld tested Lloris with a smart shot on the turn but as the half progressed France began to create more.
Olivier Giroud flashed a header just wide and Mbappe set up Benjamin Pavard whose low shot was kept out by the outstretched leg of Courtois.
It was a fascinating first half and all that was missing was a goal but one came soon after the break.
From Griezmann’s corner, Umtiti beat Marouane Fellaini at the near post and powered a header home to put France ahead.
Fellaini flashed a header just wide and Axel Witsel forced a good save out of Lloris as Belgium pushed forward for an equalizer and France hung on in six minutes of stoppage-time to reach their third World Cup final.