DUSSELDORF: The enigma which is former European champions France remains just about alive and well in the closing stages of the UEFA Euro finals.

The former double European champions edged out Belgium – their long-standing rivals of 120 years – to reach the quarter-finals but it took a fortunate own goal five minutes from time to deliver a 1-0 win. Coach Didier Deschamps’s team have yet to score a goal from open play at the finals after progressing from the group stage with a penalty and an own goal.

The own goal was a deflection off the knee of veteran defender Jan Vertonghen of an angled shot by Randal Kolo Muani.

France had previously beaten Belgium in the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup and the 2021 Nations League but some off-key finishing by captain Kylian Mbappe provided the Red Devils with an escape route until five minutes from time.

Initially, the majority of French efforts on the Belgian goal were long-range strikes from Aurelien Tchouameni, only one of which forced a save out of goalkeeper Koen Casteels. The eventual own goal provided a bitter end to Vertonghen’s 17-year international career.

Deschamps, who has adjusted his team every match, said: “We managed to create more chances than Belgium but we were also maybe on the back foot. We were intelligent, we were playing the waiting game and we weren’t going to fall into the trap of giving them the space they were looking for.

“We have the ability to hold a better hand over our matches and to keep ball possession. Obviously you can’t win games just through possession but it’s better having the possession of the ball and attacking and making the other team defend. But the number of shots we had, that’s probably the only thing that I want to work on.”

Belgium coach Domenico Tedesco remained baffled that his team had failed to score in all but one of their four games in Germany.

He said: “If you think that Romelu Romelu will go home with zero goals after this kind of games, and Jeremy Doku with zero goals and zero assists, it’s unbelievable, because they did well and they deserved more.”