Samuel Umtiti’s 51st-minute header booked France a spot in the World Cup final on Tuesday despite a valiant effort from Roberto Martinez’s Belgium.
The Red Devils were in the ascendency for extended periods, but the only goal of the match was scored when Umtiti shook off the attentions of Toby Alderweireld and Marouane Fellaini to meet Antoine Griezmann’s corner at the near post.
Croatia and England compete in Moscow on Wednesday to decide who will face France in Sunday’s showpiece.
Belgium started the opening half strongly and came closest when Alderweireld’s turn and shot was palmed away by Hugo Lloris. Les Bleus then gradually gained a foothold in the match and went close themselves when Benjamin Pavard was slipped through by Kylian Mbappe, only to be denied by the outstretched right trotter of Thibaut Courtois.
As expected, it was an intriguing tactical battle, but Uruguayan referee Andres Cunha blew for the interval with the score knotted at 0-0.
It took Umtiti only six minutes to break the deadlock, and France was almost two ahead when some lush play led to Mbappe playing a beautiful backheel to unleash Olivier Giroud. Unfortunately for Didier Deschamps’ side, Giroud’s effort was blocked by Mousa Dembele’s excellent challenge.
(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)
Belgium’s best opportunity fell to Fellaini, whose header from a Dries Mertens cross went narrowly wide, but France professionally ran down the clock while simultaneously threatening on the break with pacey counters spearheaded by the superb Mbappe. France nearly doubled its advantage in the closing stages when Courtois got down quickly to paw away substitute Corentin Tolisso’s shot.
Belgium bows out of the competition despite having enjoyed around two-thirds possession in St. Petersburg, and will be stalked by the usual doubts over Martinez’s tactics, and Romelu Lukaku’s apparent tendency to drift out of big games.
France, meanwhile, has gotten better and better in Russia.