A header from Samuel Umtiti early in the second half was enough to earn France a 1-0 victory over Belgium, sending them to their third World Cup final.
France will look to win the World Cup for the second time in the country’s history, having previously done so in 1998 when they hosted the tournament.
Not-So-High Scoring Affair
Many expected several goals to be scored between France and Belgium, as both sides had shown the ability to attack throughout the tournament. That didn’t come to pass, but while only a single goal was netted during the game, the two teams did generate plenty of chances.
Both sides had opportunities to score in the first half, but the best belonged to Belgium, as French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was forced to make a brilliant save 22 minutes into the game off a Toby Alderweireld shot that seemed to be headed for the top corner.
But while Belgium may have had the best of the action for much of the first half, it was France that appeared more dangerous in the final minutes before halftime. A great pass from Kylian Mbappe set up Benjamin Pavard one-on-one with Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who was able to get a foot to Pavard’s shot in order to play the ball out for a corner.
Despite these and many other chances, the match went into halftime scoreless. France continued to apply pressure at the start of the second half, and it finally paid off when Umtiti was able to head home a corner from Antoine Griezmann to give France the 1-0 lead in the 51st minute.
Belgium then spent the remainder of the match chasing a goal that would never come. France showed their defensive quality, denying Belgium from getting any truly dangerous scoring chances in the final minutes. In fact, it was France that came closer to scoring again, with Courtois having to make a couple of late saves as France threatened to put the match out of reach.
In the end, France’s balance proved to be more than enough to earn a spot in the final, as Belgium was unable to seriously threaten to find an equalized late in the match.
No Regrets for Belgium
Belgium manager Roberto Martinez said after the game that his team had nothing to feel ashamed of in their loss.
“The effort from the players was magnificent, I couldn’t ask for more,” Martinez said after the match. “In football you have to understand there are winners and losers but if you are going to lose, you do it while giving everything.”
France now advances to the final, where they will meet either England or Croatia on Sunday. The French side should go into the match as the favorite no matter who they face, and William Hill is now listing France at 8/13 to win the tournament.
Meanwhile, Belgium’s tournament will continue on Saturday, when they face the loser of the England/Croatia game in the third-place match. And while having to play in a consolation game might seem like a letdown, Martinez says it’s important that his team show up to win.
“We can’t be anything other than disappointed now, but we will try to finish the tournament on a high,” Martinez said.