France will play for the 2018 FIFA World Cup crown after beating Belgium 1-0 at the St. Petersburg Stadium on Tuesday.
Samuel Umtiti headed in from an Antoine Griezmann corner after 51 minutes, and Belgium failed to score for the first time this tournament as Romelu Lukaku’s influence was quelled.
England and Croatia will fight for the second spot in the final on Wednesday when they meet at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
Mbappe Thrives on Big Stage
The world didn’t need Paris Saint-Germain maestro Kylian Mbappe to convince them any more of his immense talent, but Tuesday’s win over Belgium was a coming-of-age occasion for the 19-year-old on a grander scale.
France’s striker star functioned more than competently as the wing provider, just as he does in Paris, and Statman Dave pointed to the speedster’s terrifically abnormal rate of production:
Statman Dave @StatmanDave
Kylian Mbappé has created 6 chances vs. Belgium, 4 more than any other player on the pitch.
He’s 19. 😲😲😲 https://t.co/yeLddIRwU7
Griezmann and Olivier Giroud had the majority of attempts at goal for manager Didier Deschamps’ men—six apiece, per WhoScored.com—but Mbappe was France’s unselfish star of the show.
Belgium would have had a far easier day were it not for his frame buzzing towards the right byline, with his pace being the most obvious of his attributes at work, per Yahoo Sport UK:
Yahoo Sport UK @YahooSportUK
The most Kylian Mbappe photo you’re ever going to see.🏃🏾♂️🔥 #FRA #FRABEL https://t.co/JL1AooAR6J
But we know Mbappe is fast. Against the impressive troops of Belgium, it was his control—knowing when to use it, knowing when to release the ball—that fed a sophisticated display, per broadcaster Deji Faremi:
Deji Faremi @deejayfaremi
Mbappe is bullying old men. Also, he’s showing the necessary confidence, and maturity – to not overdo it – while at it.
It was something other stars at this World Cup could do with learning.
One of his brightest moments came among a quartet of Belgian defenders on the edge of the enemy area, yet another suggestion of the inescapable cool Mbappe keeps at the most tense of times, via Match of the Day (U.K. only):
Match of the Day @BBCMOTD
Kylian Mbappe… stop that!
#FRABEL #worldcup https://t.co/4LQlKXgvDm
He’s won Ligue 1 with two clubs, was named in the 2016-17 UEFA Champions League Team of the Year and is one of the most expensive transfers in history, but Mbappe announced himself to the masses all over again in St. Petersburg.
It’s incredible to think the Parisian is still only a teenager. Who knows? We could look forward to two more decades—five more World Cups—of Mbappe magic on the biggest stages in the sport.
Lasting so long may be a big ask for a player whose strengths are centered around speed and fast-twitch muscle fibres, things that deteriorate with age, but we’ll take it if it means seeing more of France’s wonder.
Courtois vs. Lloris Goalkeeper Duel Overshadows Star-Studded AttacksCatherine Ivill/Getty Images
With so much offensive quality assembled between the two teams, it was only natural that most of the talk in the buildup hovered around which attackers would dazzle—except the goalkeepers were the ones who ultimately caught the eye most.
France No. 1 Hugo Lloris and Belgium counterpart Thibaut Courtois perhaps weren’t scripted to be the stars of the show, but then it makes sense that the level of attack should coax out the best a defence has to offer.
Footy Humour illustrated how steadfast the pair were in their first-half work:
Footy Humour @FootyHumour
Courtois and Lloris right now https://t.co/ltlCIuv8Tv
The Business Standard also hailed the fine work of Lloris in the opening 45 minutes:
Business Standard @bsindia
‘The Great Wall of Hugo Lloris’
Match updates: https://t.co/JqVj8znt8s
#FRABEL #worldcup https://t.co/cbudPboHYW
Courtois of Chelsea and Lloris of Tottenham Hotspur flew a strong flag for the Premier League’s stoppers and were frequently put under the microscope, as both attacks looked to be threats from open play and set pieces alike.
Writer Rehan Ulhaq concurred the two figures in between the posts were more of a draw than those looking to penetrate their lines:
Rehan Ulhaq @Rehan_ulhaq
Although it’s 0-0 but I enjoyed that half. 2 saves, 1 each by Lloris amp; Courtois, the highlights so far. With all the outfield talent in both teams, their GKs are overlooked sometimes. Will discuss that amp; more on Geo news tonight after the 1am bulletin (post-match show)
Lloris made a particularly impressive stretch to prevent Spurs team-mate from Toby Alderweireld scoring from a corner, and it’s not the first time he’s dazzled thus far in Russia:
B/R Football @brfootball
Hugo Lloris is out for that Golden Glove ✋ https://t.co/2XRw8E2h9L
Journalist Alasdair Gold described the rejuvenating effect this World Cup has had on the White Hart Lane star:
Alasdair Gold @AlasdairGold
If anyone was starting to doubt Hugo Lloris after a few mistakes last season, this World Cup has really restored his reputation. Potentially keeper of the tournament so far with his saves. He’s been fantastic.
Courtois was almost helpless to prevent Umtiti from heading in the breakthrough, particularly given that Marouane Fellaini should have beaten the Frenchman to the ball while airborne.
If either England-based keeper has seen his reputation hurt in recent years, Tuesday’s international showdown re-established his status as one of the finest in the world.
France Are Final Favourites Regardless of Opponent
Amid the raft of surprise names to go further than expected in Russia, France are the most logical pick to spoil that. The 1998 world champions proved why on Tuesday.
For all the tactical scrutiny he’s encountered of late, Deschamps is a well-travelled and pragmatic coach, and Les Blues have shown a habit of contending for World Cup glory in the past two decades, per The Independent:
Indy Football @IndyFootball
France have now reached three of the last six #WorldCup finals https://t.co/QHXCFezs9X
As if that didn’t help form a strong enough foundation, they’ve had one of the glitziest squads in contention in Russia, and Paul Pogba, Griezmann and Mbappe had a big hand on Tuesday’s result, per Fox Soccer:
FOX Soccer @FOXSoccer
France’s FIFA World Cup masterpiece is nearly complete 🎨 https://t.co/8zj92Tp3cC
Good teams at the World Cup tend to improve as the tournament goes on, and that’s been the case with France. They followed a slow group stage by putting four past Argentina in the round of 16 and then had consecutive clean sheets over Uruguay and Belgium, neither of whom are pushovers.
A large chunk of this squad were present for the defeat to Portugal in the 2016 European Championship final, but in making the final in Russia, journalist Tancredi Palmeri noted they’ve accomplished something never done before:
Tancredi Palmeri @tancredipalmeri
France are the first team ever to reach a World Cup final right after having lost a Euro final
With the emergence of right-back Benjamin Pavard, Lloris’ steely form between the posts, a midfield comprised of stars such as N’Golo Kante and Pogba and plenty of riches in attack for Les Bleus, England and Croatia should both fear the prospect of facing them in the final on Sunday.