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Umtiti Heads France Into Final
Samuel Umtiti’s 51st-minute header sent an impressive France into the World Cup final with a 1-0 victory over Belgium in a thrilling first semi-final on Tuesday.
Didier Deschamps’ side face England or Croatia in Moscow on Sunday as the French seek to lift the trophy for the second time after their home triumph in 1998.
In a thrilling tactical game, it was once again a set piece that proved decisive with Umtiti’s header close to the post from an Antoine Griezmann corner kick to settle things.
Belgium quickly took control of the midfield, with France content to sit deep and eliminate the threat of counterattacks from Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne.
But it was by no means a purely negative approach as the French offered their own danger at the break, best illustrated when Paul Pogba’s delivery sent Kylian Mbappe running towards goal and Belgium were grateful that their goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was vigilant to quell the danger.
The first real opener came in the 16th minute when De Bruyne hooked the ball into Hazard’s path whose shot was just wide of Huge Lloris’ far post.
Hazard was dangerous again moments later when he cut from the left and unleashed a raspy drive that clipped Raphael Varane’s back and just over the bar.
From a Belgian corner, Toby Alderweireld tested Lloris with a clever shot around the corner, but as the half progressed France began to create more.
Olivier Giroud headed wide and Mbappe set Benjamin Pavard whose low shot was blocked by Courtois’ outstretched leg.
It was a fascinating first half and only one goal was missing, but there are a few 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 headed wide wide and Axel Witsel forced a good save from Lloris as Belgium moved forward to equalize and France hung on in six minutes of stoppage time to book their place in the final.
France coach Didier Deschamps hailed the character of his young side after beating Belgium 1-0 on Tuesday to stage a World Cup final against England or Croatia in Moscow.
Samuel Umtiti’s 51st-minute header at St Petersburg Stadium sent the French into the final, where they will be aiming for their second victory since 1998 – when Deschamps led them at home.
“It was exceptional,” Deschamps said in a pitchside interview.
“I’m very happy for my players, we showed character and the right mentality, it was very tough for us tonight. We worked hard defensively.
“We had to take advantage of it a bit more in the counter-attacks, but congratulations to my players and my staff. I’m very proud of my squad,” said Deschamps, who is aiming to join Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer and the Brazilian Mario Zagallo as the only men to have won the World Cup as a player and coach.
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