Russia 2018 Watch: France first into World Cup final
- Credit: Archant
In one of our final blogs of this year’s World Cup, Lane Dias reviews semi-final one
France marched into their third World Cup final in 20 years thanks to Samuel Umtiti’s second-half header.
They had met Belgium on 73 previous encounters in all competitions in a rivalry spanning 114 years.
And the Belgians had got the better of the head-to-head in all competitions overall, with 30 victories to les Bleus’ 24 – the most recent coming in 2015 when the Red Devils won 4-3 in a friendly in Saint-Denis.
However, despite the two sides meeting three times in the finals of international competitions, the Belgians were yet to get one over their neighbours – with the French winning by at least two goals on each occasion (a 3-1 defeat in the 1938 World cup, a 5-0 loss in the 1984 European Championships and a 4-2 defeat in the 1986 World Cup play-off).
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Both sides were unbeaten in their last five World Cup fixtures, with the Belgians winning every single match while the French had won four and drawn one.
The French had lost their previous World Cup fixture to be contested on July 10 – a 3-2 defeat in the third-place play-off against Poland in 1982 – and lost their last tournament finals match on home soil 1-0 to my beloved Portugal in the 2016 European Championship final thanks to Éder’s extra-time winner.
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They were hoping for a better result on this outing against their neighbours but the Belgians started in the ascendancy and would have opened the scoring in the 21st minute had it not been for the heroics of Hugo Lloris, who reacted well to terrifically deny his Tottenham Hotspur team-mate Toby Alderweireld, following a corner.
The 1998 World Cup winners had the chance to take the lead themselves 18 minutes later when Benjamin Pavard was sent through on goal by Kylian Mbappé, but his strike was smothered behind brilliantly by the outstretched foot of Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois.
Six minutes into the second half, Didier Deschamps’ men went in front when Antoine Griezmann’s whipped-in corner was headed home by Umtiti at the near post.
Four minutes later, the French had a good chance to double their lead after Mbappé’s audacious flick into the path of Olivier Giroud, but his strike was blocked by a fine last-ditch challenge from Mousa Dembéle.
Belgium had responded since going behind and brought on Dries Mertens on the hour mark and he made an impact immediately when his cross was half-cleared into the path of Kevin De Bruyne, who was having an unexpected off night and, unusually for him, miscued his effort.
Mertens was a threat on the right flank and his crossing ability was clearly causing the French several problems, especially in the 64th minute when Marouane Fellaini latched on to his delivery to head just wide.
Ten minutes from time, another Belgian Afro was attacking the French goal when Axel Witsel’s pile-driver from outside the area drew another fine save from Lloris, who palmed the effort away as the French marched on to Sunday’s showpiece in Moscow, while Belgium will have to settle for the third-place play-off on Saturday.
England and Croatia meet tonight to see who faces whom at the weekend.