FREEPRESS – A very technical match was decided by a lapse in concentration and a header in the second half by Samuel Umtiti, who got ahead of Marouane Fellaini and his header flicked off the Belgian’s curls past Thibaut Courtois for the only goal that decided the match between the neighbours. The top scorers in Russia, Belgium with 12 goals could not score just one against a very professional France team, who make their third trio to a FIFA World Cup final.
France kicked off and were off with Kylian Mbappe just breezed past Jan Vertonghen on the right flank but his cross could not be latched on by Antoine Griezmann but Belgium soon settled.
Belgium settled the better and had more possession as they took the ball to the French with Eden Hazard proving elusive for Benjamin Pavard to win Belgium the first corner on seven minutes. With Belgium camped in the France half, Moussa Dembele, who came in for the suspended Thomas Meunier, lost the ball and Paul Pogba almost threaded in Mbappe but Thibaut Courtois was quickly off his line.
Hazard got on a flicked pass from Kevin de Bruyne on 16 minutes but his left-footed drive went just past Hugo Lloris’ left post. Blaise Matuidi replied with an effort from outside the box, but it was straight at Courtois. It was end-to-end as the countries traded attack even though Romelu Lukaku had yet to get into the game. Hazard again went close in the 19th minute but his drive, heading for the top left corner was diverted over by Raphael Varane’s head.
De Bruyne almost found Lukaku in the box in the 28th minute but Samuel Umtiti was quick to clear the danger.
The save of the half soon followed on 32 minutes as Lloris saved superbly from his Tottenham mate, Toby Alderweireld, who swivelled and shot in one movement in the box.
Mbappe slipped in Pavard but his goal-bound shot was saved by Courtois’ trailing right leg. The half ended with Umtiti making a mistake that almost gifted Lukaku a scoring chance but the Manchester United man was caught on his heels.
The half started with an Umtiti mistake but he quickly averted danger by conceding a corner.
Lukaku then got his first chance two minutes into the second stanzas but he could not direct Axel Witsel’s cross. Umtiti was almost caught on the ball in the French box in the 50th minute but the danger was again averted.
Giroud turned brilliantly in the box but Vincent Kompany blocked for a corner. From the ensuing corner, Umtiti got ahead of Marouane Fellaini to head past Courtois. That was a breakthrough for France with the clock reading 51 minutes. Dembele had been totting up fouls all over the pitch and Roberto Martinez was definitely thinking about a change in his midfield at this point.
Dembele was pulled out for Dries Mertens on the hour as Martinez threw on one more attacker.
De Bruyne did not get his laces on a goal-scoring chance in the 61st minute as the ball bounced high in the France box. Hazard was shown the first yellow of the game on 63 minutes when he cynically fouled Matuidi, who would have had a chance to counter.
Fellaini was given a chance to equalise from a Mertens cross on 64 minutes but it just went wide.
Another quick steal and counter gave Giroud another shooting but he blasted high and wide with the game looking more like a Chess game.
Alderweireld got the second yellow of the match for a foul on Matuidi. The referee waved play on when Giroud upended Hazard on the edge of the box before Witsel tested Lloris’ alertness with a swerving effort on 81 minutes. Steven Nzonzi came on for Giroud. Matuidi was winded by a blocking tackle by Hazard and was treated on the pitch. He went off for Corentin Tolisso. Belgium laid siege on the France box but Les Bleus put bodies on the line.
Lukaku missed the ball in the box on 88 minutes from a driven cross by De Bruyne. Six minutes were added on but perfect game management from France meant Belgium could not create any more scoring chances. Tolisso could have added gloss to the scoreline in the 95th minute but Courtois made another save. In the end France were just too savvy for Belgium.