Duro Ikhazuagbe in St Petersburg
Samuel Umtiti fired France into her first World Cup final in 20 years last night when the FC Barcelona defender headed home the lone goal of the semi final clash with Belgium at the St Petersburg Stadium.
There was no doubt that the Belgians were the more attack conscious of the two teams but at the end of 90 minutes it was Les Blues that grabbed the first final ticket of Russia 2018.
France will now have to wait for the winner of Wednesday’s second semi final between Croatia and England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow to know who to play in the final scheduled for Sunday at same venue in the Russian capital city.
After being dominated in the first half, due to an awesome Eden Hazard brilliant display, France took responsibility and the control of the match after half-time.
After Raphael Varane performed heroics in the quarter-finals against Uruguay, this time it was Umtiti’s 51st header that made the difference from an Antoine Griezmann’s corner at the near post. After out jumping Marouane Fellaini, Umtiti simply flicked the header beyond Thibaut Courtois in goal for Belgium. Belgium took early control of midfield with France content to sit deep and eliminate the threat of counter-attacks from Hazard and Kevin 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 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.
Late into the second half Fellaini flashed a header just wide and Axel Witsel forced a good save out of Lloris as Belgium pushed forward for an equaliser and France hung on in six minutes of stoppage time to book their place in the final.