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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 win over Belgium in an engrossing first semi-final on Tuesday.
Didier Deschamps’ side face either England or Croatia in Moscow on Sunday as the French look to lift the trophy for a second time after triumphing on home soil in 1998.
In a thrilling tactical match, it was set pieces again that proved decisive as Umtiti’s near-post header from Antoine Griezmann’s corner equalized.
Belgium soon took control of midfield with France content to sit back and eliminate the counter-attacking threat of Eden 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, which was perfectly illustrated when Paul Pogba’s cross sent Kylian Mbappe on target and Belgium were grateful their goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was alert and snuffed out the danger.
The first real opener came in the 16th minute when De Bruyne hooked the ball into the path of Hazard, whose shot narrowly missed Hugo Lloris’ far post.
Hazard was dangerous again moments later when he cut in from the left and unleashed a screeching drive that clipped the back of Raphael Varane and just over the bar.
Toby Alderweireld tested Lloris with a clever shot on the turn from a Belgian corner, but France began to build more as the half progressed.
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 only a goal was missing, but it came soon after the break.
From Griezmann’s corner, Umtiti beat Marouane Fellaini at the near post and headed France into the lead.
Fellaini flashed a header just wide and Axel Witsel forced a fine save from Lloris as Belgium pushed forward for an equalizer and France held on for six minutes from stoppage time to book their place in the final.
France coach Didier Deschamps praised the character of his young side after beating Belgium 1-0 on Tuesday to set up a World Cup final against England or Croatia in Moscow.
Samuel Umtiti’s 51st-minute header at the St. Petersburg Stadium sent the French into the final, where they will be seeking their second win since 1998 – when Deschamps led them on home soil.
“It was special,” Deschamps said in an interview on the pitch.
“I’m very happy for my players, we showed character and the right mentality, it was very difficult for us today. We worked hard defensively.
“We had to use a bit more on the counter-attack, but I congratulate my players and my team. I feel very proud of my group,” said Deschamps, who is the only one trying to join Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer and Brazil’s Mario Zagall. men who have won World Cups as a player and as a manager.
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