France defeated Belgium 1-0 to advance to the World Cup Finals.
The Daily Mail:” A game as fabulous as this should not really have been settled by something so prosaic as a header from a corner.
There is nothing wrong with corners. They have been at the heart of England’s World Cup campaign, after all. But this wonderful, intricate, skilful match deserved something more memorable to decorate it.
Instead, the whole thing came down to one of football’s oldest facets, a battle of strength and will between two big, athletic men at the near post.
This one was won by Samuel Umtiti over Marouane Fellaini and, as the Barcelona defender’s header crashed into the goal early in the second half, Belgium’s carefully constructed World Cup campaign collapsed.
So, it is Didier Deschamps’ France who await the winner of England v Croatia in Sunday’s final, but whoever they face, Les Bleus will start as favourites. Against a beguiling and dextrous Belgium side, France began slowly here but grew inexorably and purposefully into the game. By the end, they were worthy winners.
France did not start this World Cup with elan but they have got steadily better, advancing through the tough half of the draw by beating Argentina, Uruguay and now Belgium.
They are three teams of substance and three victories from which France will take confidence. Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and the mesmerising Kylian Mbappe were magnificent last night.
We should feel sympathy for Roberto Martinez and Belgium, who have brought much to this World Cup. At times in the first half they looked as though they would unlock France and, had they scored first, they may have walked away with this semi-final.
But for all their possession and neat patterns, they could not find a way to hurt France. Hugo Lloris made only two significant saves all night, one from a first-half shot by Tottenham club-mate Toby Alderweireld, the other from Axel Witsel’s drive.
Martinez may ask himself why he stuck with the bespoke system he used to beat Brazil rather than reverting to his usual back three.
In the centre of the field, Mousa Dembele was run ragged by Pogba and Kante.
He was the weak link in this Belgium XI and France exploited his flat-footedness and lack of pace on the turn.
But this was a game of fine margins. We saw the best two teams in the World Cup and one of them had to lose. The only surprise was that we did not see more goals.
For Belgium, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard ran directly with familiar poise and wit, while the French countered with bursts of their own. Belgium started fast but could not maintain it.
Pogba and Kante began breaking up possession with a surgeon’s precision and looked for the lightning feet of Mbappe or the heft of Olivier Giroud.
Early on, it was Belgium’s game. Hazard and De Bruyne found space between the blue lines and their play just lacked a smart run from Romelu Lukaku or a kindly bounce to bring them tangible joy.
Hazard shot across goal with his left foot in the 16th minute, while a curling effort from the Chelsea player looked destined for the top corner before it struck defender Raphael Varane on the back and went for a corner.
It seemed only a matter of time before Lloris got busy in the France goal and sure enough he was called upon midway through the half.
A corner from the right dropped to Alderweireld 14 yards out and the defender’s shot on the turn was pushed round his right-hand post by Lloris at full stretch.
It was a nice height for Lloris and he got two gloves on it, but it was still a good save.
So the Belgian threat was clear but so was their vulnerability. And when France won a corner courtesy of a Giroud deflected shot in the 51st minute, Umtiti lumbered up to earn his place in history.
Replays showed his header brushed Fellaini’s curls on its way in. The Manchester United player looked bereft but his pain should be eased by the knowledge he has had a good World Cup.
There had been signs before the goal that the France threat was growing. Thibaut Courtois’s foot had denied Benjamin Pavard late in the first half and Antoine Griezmann had gone close.
Dries Mertens replaced the drowning Dembele and Belgium came again courtesy of a Fellaini header. But France were emboldened by a sense of opportunity and would not let Belgium in.
They defend well, this France team. At the business end of an entertaining World Cup, it remains a fundamental skill. As does the taking of good corner kicks.