France were able to blunt Belgium’s attack and book their place in the 2018 World Cup final with a 1-0 win at the Saint-Petersburg Stadium on Tuesday.
France 1 Belgium 0
Matuidi (19′) fires straight at Courtois
Alderweireld (22′) kept out by Lloris
Umtiti (51′) heads home from a corner
Courtois (90′) denies Griezmann and Tolisso
The Red Devils came into this semi-final encounter as the highest scorers in the tournament, but Didier Deschamps’ side limited them to just a couple of clear-cut chances.
After a goalless first half, Les Bleus came up with the only goal of the game early in the second half when Samuel Umtiti powered home a header at the near post.
France were almost completely starved of possession in the opening 15 minutes as Belgium worked hard to win the ball back quickly at every opportunity when they lost it.
The Red Devils created the first chance just past the quarter-hour mark when Eden Hazard flashed a left-footed shot wide of the far post from 14 yards out after being played into space by a deft pass from Kevin De Bruyne on the left.
Blaise Matuidi threatened at the other end moments later with a well-struck half-volley on his left foot that arrowed into the grasp of Thibaut Courtois from 20 yards out.
Hazard went close again on 19 minutes as he cut inside from the left to lose Benjamin Pavard and hit a dipping shot from 16 yards out that was deflected over by Raphael Varane’s head.
A smart save from Hugo Lloris prevented the Belgians from taking the lead on 22 minutes, with the keeper diving to his right to push Tottenham team-mate Toby Alderweireld’s strike on the turn around the left post.
Les Bleus quickly countered as Umtiti spotted the run of Olivier Giroud, who was unable to steer the defender’s long diagonal pass on goal on the stretch.
They were slowly gaining the ascendancy after a slow start and Giroud glanced a stooping header wide of the right post from Benjamin Pavard’s cross following a quickly-taken free-kick on 31 minutes, before Antoine Griezmann shifted the ball onto his right foot and fired well over the target from 21 yards out two minutes later.
Griezmann produced a disappointing end-product to a fine solo run on 37 minutes as he collected the ball inside his own half and surged forward before dragging a shot wide of the right post from 22 yards.
Courtois ensured his country would go into the break all-square when he turned away Pavard’s angled shot with his leg on 39 minutes after the defender latched onto Kylian Mbappe’s threaded pass on the right.
Both teams had early chances after the restart, with Romelu Lukaku sending a header well over the bar from Axel Witsel’s cross on the right in the 47th minute, before Vincent Kompany recovered well to block Giroud’s shot after the striker had turned the defender to create an opening on 51 minutes.
French fans were celebrating seconds later as Umtiti rose above Marouane Fellaini at the near post to head home the opener from the resulting corner.
Mousa Dembele had to be alert to deny Giroud with a last-ditch block on 56 minutes after silky touches from Matuidi and Mbappe played him in on the left, while Fellaini squandered a good opportunity to equalise nine minutes later as he directed a downward header wide of the near post from Dries Mertens’ cross on the right.
Giroud should have done better moments later when he skied an effort high into the stand behind the goal from 19 yards out after being teed up by Griezmann, and De Bruyne produced a similarly disappointing outcome on 76 minutes as he blasted a left-footed shot high and wide of the target having turned smartly on Hazard’s pass.
Lloris was forced to punch away Axel Witsel’s first-time strike from 25 yards out nine minutes from time, while Courtois produced two fine saves in stoppage time to deny Griezmann and Corentin Tolisso from sealing the win.