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LIVE FROM ST. PETERSBURG: Umtiti header helps France floor Belgium

France have advanced to the World Cup final after they beat Belgium 1-0 in Saint Petersburg on Wednesday.

Samuel Umtiti's second half header was enough for Les Bleus to book their first final appearance since 2006.

Belgium were on the front foot during early proceedings, Eden Hazard especially lively against the inexperienced Benjamin Pavard. It was the Chelsea striker who had Belgium's first chance of the game, cutting in past Pavard before his shot was flicked just over the bar by Raphael Varane.

Four minutes later, Toby Alderweireld had turned away to celebrate after his swivelled effort from 13 yards out look destined for the top corner, only for Hugo Lloris to produce a world-class double handed save to deny his Tottenham teammate.

It took until the 34th minute mark for France to get their first goal scoring opportunity. Olivier Giroudhad the chance to finish off a suave move between Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe, but the Chelsea striker clumsily directed his effort wide of Thibaut Courtois.

The best chance and best save of the first half came six minutes later. Axel Witsel paid for napping when Pavard sneaked in behind him to receive a delightful pass from Mbappe. The right-back, who scored arguably the goal of the tournament against Argentina, decided to steer his shot across Courtois into the bottom far post, but the gargantuan goalkeeper stuck out his right leg to deny the 22-year-old.

Fans had hardly got back to their seats after the interval when Umtiti broke the deadlock. The Barcelona defender managed to free himself of Toby Alderweireld to flick an unstoppable header past Thibaut Courtois at the near post.

From there on, France battened down the hatches. Didier Deschamps would've almost shed a tear watching his players defend with such discipline and tenacity, reminiscent of himself back in 1998.

Roberto Martinez's men resorted to the tactics that proved successful against Japan in the last-16, swinging in crosses to their big men in Lukaku and Fellaini. The latter almost equalised for his side when he got in front of Paul Pogba, but his header flashed wide of the post.

Ultimately, France's fortress held up for the rest of the half, with Raphael Varane producing an imperious performance to help steer his team to the final.



WORLD CUP - SEMI-FINAL

France - 1 (Umtiti 51')

Belgium - 0

Saint Petersburg Stadium, Saint Petersburg - 64,286

Andrew Maclean
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Andrew Maclean

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