Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Posted at: Jul 12, 2018, 2:04 AM; last updated: Jul 12, 2018, 2:04 AM (IST)


After their disciplined performance against high-scoring Belgium, France are now firm favourites
France’s forward Kylian Mbappe jumps over Belgium’s midfielder Kevin De Bruyne during their semifinal in St Petersburg on Tuesday. AFP

St Petersburg, July 11

They’re young, they’re brash and they’re collectively worth a billion dollars. The one thing missing for this French squad is an international title. Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba and France are about to get that chance. Les Bleus are headed to the World Cup final. Samuel Umtiti clinched a 1-0 win over Belgium — and earned the approval of watching French President Emmanuel Macron in the VIP seats — by scoring on a header off a corner kick in the 51st minute on Tuesday. “Vive la France! Vive la Republique!” France forward Antoine Griezmann shouted during postgame celebrations.

Umtiti played his part in a strong defensive effort by the French, too, helping to shut out the highest-scoring team at the tournament and leaving Belgium’s golden generation of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku to regret another missed opportunity at a major tournament. “It’s me that scored,” Umtiti said, “but we all delivered a big game.”

France’s players danced on the field after the final whistle and their fans sang in the stands long past the end of the match, surrounded by yellow-clad security.

They certainly hope to keep the party going on Sunday in the final in Moscow. France, with an average age of 26, will face either Croatia or England, and have a shot at redemption after losing its last two major finals — at the 2006 World Cup when Zinedine Zidane was sent off for a nasty head-butt and the 2016 European Championship on home soil. “We’re immensely privileged to be in the World Cup final,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “It was so painful two years ago we have to savor it.” 

Deschamps now has the chance to become the third person to win the World Cup as a player and a coach, after Germany great Franz Beckenbauer and Brazil’s Mario Zagallo. As France captain, Deschamps raised soccer’s most prized trophy in 1998.

Deschamps has faced some criticism for being too pragmatic and functional despite having a squad of superstars, but the organisation of the team was superb against an opponent that was largely restricted to only minor chances and denied on two occasions by France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. In a tournament dominated by goals from set pieces, France’s goal came off a corner when Griezmann curled in the ball from the right and Umtiti got in front of tall Belgium midfielder Marouane Fellaini to knock in his header at the near post. Up in the corporate seats, president Macron reacted to the goal by shaking the hand of King Philippe of Belgium. — AP

Their progress is huge. The players today are going to be even stronger in two years’ time and in four years’ time but today they are already competitive. We don’t do everything right but of course there is a progression.  I’m very proud of them, I’m very proud of their mentality as well... with our state of mind we can climb mountains and that’s what we’ve done so far.

Didier Deschamps,

France coach

It was a very tight game, there were not many big moments that were going to decide the game. The difference between the defeat or winning was down to one dead-ball situation, that’s how close the game was. 

We have to give a lot of credit to the way France defended, even having certain attacking players defending very deep and giving us a lot of respect in that way. We couldn’t find the little bit of magic in front of goal or a little bit of luck at times. 

But if you’re going to lose a game, I’m so proud of the players -- you lose with a lot of effort, giving everything you’ve got, driving until the last second. You have to accept it, congratulate France and wish them well for the final

Roberto Martinez,

Belgium coach


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