France have made it into their third World Cup finals as they edged past Belgium 1-0 in the semifinal in St. Petersburg, thanks to a clinical header from Samuel Umtiti.
While Belgium certainly started the better of the two sides, they failed to make their half chances count. French skipper Hugo Lloris made an important save to deny Toby Alderweireld from a corner-kick.
However, after the half-hour mark, it was Didier Deschamps’ side which looked more threatening especially with Paul Pogba making the difference in the middle of the park. N’Golo Kante too wasn’t far behind as he constantly harried the Belgian attaching midfielders such as Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard.
The goal came through a set-piece. Antoine Griezmann swung the ball from the right and Samuel Umtiti’s header flashed off his head. The ball also took a touch off the giant Marouane Fellaini and beat Thibaut Courtois in goal.
Belgium didn’t really threaten the French citadel with Axel Witsel’s shot from distance being the only moment which got Lloris into action.
Roberto Martinez’s decision to switch their formation to a 4-4-2 after persisting with a 3-5-2 also didn’t work.
“We showed character and mentality, it was very hard for us tonight. We worked hard defensively, we needed to take advantage a bit more in the counter-attacks but congratulations to my players and my staff,” said Deschamps.
Meanwhile, a disappointed Martinez rued that his side conceded a goal from 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,” said the Spaniard.
The absence of Thomas Meunier was massive as Belgium missed his services due to suspension.
“Meunier brings an understanding. He is almost an ever present. He's been playing and he's been very important. If you look at his play in the final third, in terms of assists, creating spaces, he's very important. It's a player we missed, but that's what you have to do in a World Cup. You need to be able to cope with that,” said the former Everton manager
Belgium also struggled to contain Kylian Mbappe, who completed as many as seven dribbles from 15 attempts, which is the highest tally for a French player in a World Cup game since 1966.