France rail's cheeky dig at Henry after Belgium defeat

Grant SmithJul 12, 2018

But he managed only one header of note, which missed the target.

Absolutely, the electric presence of Kylian Mbappé and the occasional flashes of brilliance from Pogba and Griezmann have had their part in affecting France's run through this tournament, but what has made them successful in their current iteration is a togetherness and a doggedness.

France have reached the World Cup final, but they did so in a negative fashion.

Then, in the 51st minute, Samuel Umtiti's header gave France a goal.

"Vive la France! Vive la Republique!"

Aleksandr Golovin was the architect of this incredible running team, running 25.15 kms in their first two group games.

It took the Belgian players some time to realise that they had just passed up their golden generation's golden opportunity to go where their country could never dream of going before-to the World Cup final.

The prosaic truth may be twofold: that Belgium lost to a France side which, in Mbappe, has a man auditioning for the title of the world's best player and which has greater strength in depth. If France go on to win their second World Cup, they would owe a big thank you to Umtiti and Varane for their extraordinary defensive work and goals.

They certainly hope to keep the party going on Sunday in the final in Moscow. The execution certainly was not the best in Tuesday's semi-final but this was a contest lost in the mind too. Making that objective clear, De Bruyne said: "We've got just one wish now: to win a sixth match in Russian Federation so we can go away on holiday even more at peace with ourselves". Didier Deschamps continues to choose him in the front line and the Chelsea striker must repay the trust given to him if he wants to help the team win it all.

France's other hero was goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who made a spectacular fingertip save in the first half to deny Toby Alderweireld and then kept out Alex Witsel's drive as Belgium cranked up the pressure towards the end of the match.

Watched in St Petersburg by French president Emmanuel Macron, defender Umtiti's goal settled a tense match between the European neighbours. Midfielder Youri Tielemans, the latest of the crop, went from Anderlecht to Monaco at 20 a year ago, but has yet to score a goal in the French league and was mostly a benchwarmer in Russian Federation. In the first half, Belgium dominated the possession but failed to score, similarly France looked risky in the counter attacks but Giroud failed to beat Courtois.

Belgium booked its spot in the semi-final by upsetting favourites Brazil in the last eight. Leading the scoring in this tournament with 14 goals, many thought this could be their year.

With Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar no longer in Russia, Eden Hazard and Mbappe have taken over as the stars of the World Cup and there was a buzz every time either got the ball.

At 19, Mbappe wasn't even born when France won the World Cup for the first and only time with a squad that is just as diverse as the one Deschamps is leading 20 years later. It's their right to play like that, but it's not nice to see.

"It was a matter of details and one stood out".

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