France advances to World Cup final after 1-0 win over Belgium
Defender Samuel Umtiti’s corner-kick header in the 51st minute gave France the lead, and Les Bleus finished strong to beat Belgium 1-0 in St. Petersburg on Tuesday and advance to their third World Cup final.
Umtiti broke the scoreless draw by nodding an in-swinging corner kick from Antoine Griezmann over the left shoulder of Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois at the near post. Belgium midfielder Marouane Fellaini was a step slow to the cross, and the Red Devils had no player on the near post as the close-range flick snuck into the net.
Belgium threw bodies forward and sent several crosses into the box in the closing minutes, but none produced particularly dangerous chances. France engineered the more threatening opportunities in stoppage time, using counterattacks to force saves from Courtois on Griezmann in the 93rd minute and Corentin Tolisso in the 96th minute, the latter of which went out for a corner and helped France bleed the clock dry.
France will look to claim its second World Cup title Sunday at 11 a.m. ET against either Croatia or England, who face off Wednesday in the second semifinal. Les Bleus triumphed on home soil in 1998, eight years before losing on penalties to Italy in Berlin in 2006.
Belgium was making its second semifinal appearance and seeking its first in a final. The Red Devils entered on a 24-game unbeaten streak, including a nine-game winning streak in competitive matches.
Their best chances came in the game’s first 30 minutes, when they controlled the majority of play during a cautious start from both teams. In the 19th minute, Eden Hazard’s whipping shot from the left side was flicked just over the bar by French defender Raphael Varane. Three minutes later, the ball fell to Belgium defender Toby Alderweireld off a corner kick, but French keeper Hugo Lloris dove and got just enough of a curling left-footer to parry it wide.
France took more control as halftime approached. Its best chance came in the 39th minute when Kylian Mbappe flicked a short through ball to Benjamin Pavard from the right side, but Courtois managed a kick-save on Pavard’s shallow angle shot, sending it wide.
The French came out strong in the second half as well, controlling the majority of play and limiting Belgium to just two shots on goal after halftime. One was a weak volley in the 61st minute from Kevin De Bruyne, who got poor contact and bounced the ball harmlessly to Lloris. Belgium’s best chance in the second half came when Axel Witsel cracked a low, slicing shot on his first touch from the top of the box in the 81st minute, but Lloris used two hands to punch it away.
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