ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – Samuel Umtiti scored the only goal on Tuesday as France stymied Belgium’s “golden generation” 1-0 in the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup.
Umtiti’s header off a corner in the 51st minute turned out to be all Les Bleus would need to advance to the final for the third time, 20 years after winning their first – and so far, only – World Cup.
France coach Didier Deschamps was part of the squad that hoisted the trophy for the host nation in 1998.
Belgium, the more experienced side, dominated possession from the start of Tuesday’s contest in St. Petersburg and French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was tested several times in the first 30 minutes, making saves against Marouanne Fellaini and Toby Alderweireld.
With nothing to show for their efforts, the Red Devils eased off the pedal a little and France began to find opportunities on the counter.
Both teams threatened in the waning minutes of the first half.
Benjamin Pavard, already the author of one of the tournament’s best goals, forced a stop from Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois, while Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku missed an easy chance when he failed to capitalize on a mistake by Umtiti.
While the tactics remained the same after the re-start, France was the sharper team and an intervention by Belgian defender Vincent Kompany to thwart Olivier Giroud resulted in a corner for Les Bleus.
Antoine Griezmann sent the ball into the box and Umtiti warded off a late challenge by Fellaini to make it 1-0 France.
With 30 minutes left, Belgium coach Roberto Martinez turned to forward Dries Mertens in a bid for the equalizer and the Napoli striker created a pair of chances in quick succession: one saved by Lloris and the other a Fellaini strike that went wide.
The Belgians grew more desperate as the clock ticked down to the sound of the French fans singing “La Marseillaise” as their heroes came close to scoring on two more occasions before the final whistle.
In the final, France will face the winner of Wednesday’s clash between England and Croatia.