France reach World Cup final as Belgium's golden generation falls short again

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France reach World Cup final as Belgium's golden generation falls short again

Samuel Umtiti's 51st minute header earned France a place in Sunday's World Cup final as they defeated Belgium 1-0 in St Petersburg on Tuesday night.

With the second youngest side at the World Cup, Les Bleus have shown no lack of confidence and this time they have another reason to be buyoed as Blaise Matuidi returns after sitting out on the suspension of his own.

For all its possession, Belgium - the top scorers in this competition - were unable to break a robust French defense and will rue not capitalizing on its dominant first-half display.

It's not yet clear what role Kevin De Bruyne will play for Belgium in the World Cup semifinal against France.

"The game was very close, very tight", Belgium manager Roberto Martinez said following the match.

Belgium was attempting to reach their first-ever final after defeating favorite Brazil in the quarterfinals.

When the match ended, the French players danced on the field and shook the hand of Thierry Henry, another 1998 World Cup victor who is now Belgium's assistant coach.

At the other end, Mbappe demonstrated the subtler side to his game to play in Benjamin Pavard, but Courtois used his massive 6 feet 5 inch (199 centimetre) frame to deny the Stuttgart full-back his second goal of the tournament.

In contrast, France sleep-walked through the group stages, eking out wins over Australia and Peru before a stultifying 0-0 draw with Denmark. De Bruyne only has one goal thus far, but his presence has impacted every Belgian victory thus far. As France captain, Deschamps won soccer's most prized trophy in 1998.

France and Belgium are seen as the strongest teams left in the competition, which means the victor of Tuesday's match will head into the final as favourites to be crowned world champions.

You could argue the job N'Golo Kante did in between the French midfield and defence was better than that of Fernandinho of Brazil, but De Bruyne's tendency to drift out to the right meant he was struggling to cause as much bedlam with the ball for the French, and that's a switch Martinez will rue.

For the die-hard France fans, there's one twist that makes this semifinal convincing. "The effort from the players was magnificent, I couldn't ask for more".

Umtiti beat Marouane Fellaini to an Antoine Griezmann cross he headed what would prove to be the decider.

"It will be freakish to have him up against us", said France striker Olivier Giroud.

"What we didn't have was global experience, the know-how of winning a World Cup, the know-how of being a footballer, how you are expected to perform in front of the world and knowing how you feel in those moments", the Spaniard said.

At the ongoing World Cup as well, Henry has shied away from media attention even as journalists are quizzing Belgian players about the experience of working with the Arsenal great.

It remains to be seen if Martinez-Henry combination can help Eden Hazard's men stop the French juggernaut and help Belgium create World Cup history.

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