SAINT PETERSBURG: France reached its third World Cup final after overcoming Belgium on Tuesday, sparking scenes of unconfined joy in Paris as tens of thousands of people poured into the streets.
In scenes reminiscent of France’s 1998 World Cup win, delirious crowds surged up the Champs-Elysees avenue and surrounded the Arc de Triomphe, waving flags and letting off flares.
A header from Samuel Umtiti in Saint Petersburg was enough to give Didier Deschamps’ team a 1-0 win against Belgium.
The 49-year-old coach is now just one win away from winning the World Cup — 20 years after he captained the team to victory on home soil.
The tournament favorite must wait 24 hours to discover whether it will play England or Croatia in Sunday’s final in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium but it will approach the game brimming with confidence.
Belgium started the stronger of the two teams but Umtiti’s header from a corner in the 51st minute was the pivotal moment as the defender stole the limelight from jet-heeled Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann.
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 toward the end of the match.
Deschamps said he was delighted to have the chance to bury the pain of the Euro 2016 final, which Portugal won in Paris.
“I am very happy for my players,” he added. “It was hard against a very good Belgium team. I take my hat off to my players and my staff.”
“Finals have to be won because we have still not got over the one we lost two years ago,” he added.
France started the tournament in Russia slowly, struggling for goals in the group stages but hit its stride in an impressive 4-3 victory against Lionel Messi’s Argentina in the first knockout round.
Boasting an impressive combination of experience and youthful zest, it controlled its quarterfinal against Uruguay, running out a comfortable 2-0 winner.
The defeat is painful for Belgium, foiled at the semifinal for the second time in its history, as the clock ticks on its so-called “golden generation.”
Captain Eden Hazard dazzled in patches but Kevin De Bruyne was quiet and Romelu Lukaku was a shadow of the player he had been earlier in the tournament, even though Belgium enjoyed most of the possession.
Martinez bemoaned the goal that his team conceded from a corner.