ST PETERSBURG: Personal history is beckoning Didier Deschamps after France reached their second World Cup Final writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
A 1-0 victory over neighbours Belgium in St Petersburg means Deschamps can become only the third man to have won the World Cup as both a player and manager – after Brazilian Mario Zagallo (1970 and 1994) and German Franz Beckenbauer (1974 and 1990).
Belgium were superb in the opening phase of the match, confidence flowing free after their quarter-final despatch of Brazil. But the French withstood early that assault, forged a path back into the match and won deservedly with a goal from Samuel Umtiti after 50 minutes.
In the the first 10 minutes the France struggled to escape from their own half of the pitch. A five-man midfield net of players kept Belgium on the front foot in the attempt to reach the World Cup Final for the first time.
France, World Cup winners at home in 1998, had smothered the power of Romelu Lukaku and stifled the creativity of Kevin de Bruyne and will believe in a similar tactical triumph whether they face England or Croatia in Sunday’s Final in Moscow.
Belgium began brightly, swallowing up the pitch and effectively camping in the French half for the first 10 minutes.
Captain Eden Hazard snapped a low angled shot just wide across goal after De Bruyne surprised the French cover. Then Hazard had another effort headed defensively back over the bar by Raphael Varane before Toby Aderweireld saw his shot on the turn brilliantly saved by French captain Hugo Lloris.
France, finally, began to push forward themselves with the right-wing pace of Kylian Mbappe an emergent danger. Olivier Giroud saw a header fly wide and then Mbappe put in Benjamin Pavard for a shot which keeper Thibaut Courtois deflected for a corner with his right leg.
The due reward arrived five minutes into the second half. France forced a right-wing corner. Antoine Griezmann’s delivery was perfect and Umiti somehow outjumped Marouane Fellaini to glance a header beyond Courtois’s right hand.
Giroud was unlucky to be denied a second French goal by a last-ditch interception from Mousa Dembele who was then replaced by Dries Mertens as Belgium manager Roberto Martinez conceded that the time had come to chase the game.
Not enough time, as it turned out, for the golden generation who have never quite glistered brightly enough.
Mertens did create initial moments of danger with his right-wing crosses. But, aside from one instance when Fellaini headed narrowly wide, the French never panicked. Belgium replaced the luckless Fellaini with Yannick Carrasco and a swerving drive from Axel Witsel forced Lloris into punching dramatically clear as he leaped to the right.
A stream of further substitutions and yellow cards littered the final minutes as France ran down the clock go earn the right of delight at the final whistle.