At the final whistle the pocket of French supporters behind the goal to the left, with their tricolours and memories of 1998, could celebrate another triumphant night. France had made it to the World Cup final and will surely fancy their chances of being reunited with that coveted piece of gold in Moscow on Sunday. The players in blue were embracing and a Belgium side heavily made up of players from the Premier League will have to wonder whether the time will ever come for their golden generation.
The unfortunate truth is it may not but, if nothing else, Belgium will go with a lot of people’s good wishes bearing in mind Roberto Martínez’s sideknocked out Brazil to reach this semi-final and have contributed richly to what is being acclaimed as the most attractive World Cup in memory. Here, though, they could not build on an encouraging start and were worn down by a side with a superior blend when it comes to striking the right balance between attack and defence.
That will make France formidable opponents in Sunday’s final, no matter whether it is England or Croatia who join them in the Luzhniki stadium, and especially when the feeling persists that they may be capable of taking their football to a higher level. This was a controlled victory, rather than an exhilarating one, but there were still plenty of reasons to admire the team Didier Deschamps has put together.
Samuel Umtiti scored the decisive goal but the lingering memory might actually be Kylian Mbappé’s exquisite drag back to present Olivier Giroud with another chance later in the second half. If England can make it back to Moscow for the final, what a challenge it will be to keep out this brilliant young player and that is even before considering the elegant brilliance of Antoine Griezmann, or the uncommon gifts of a midfield featuring Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté.
France might have taken their time to get going but after a slow start they began to take control towards the end of the first half and once they had taken the lead six minutes after the interval there were only fleeting moments when Belgium threatened an equaliser.
Early on the team in red had kept the ball with an assurance that suggested this could be a famous night for Belgian football. By the end Eden Hazard was starting to take on too much and Belgium had conspicuously run out of ideas. Even Kevin de Bruyne began to look a little wild.
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