• France edge Belgium to reach WC final

    Samuel Umtiti of France celebrates scoring against Belgium.

    Samuel Umtiti was the unlikely hero as France reached the World Cup final for the third time in 20 years courtesy of a 1-0 win over Belgium in St Petersburg on Tuesday.

    With Thomas Meunier suspended, Belgium shifted to a back four as Martinez selected Nacer Chadli on the right.

    Still, the change in shape did not appear to bother the tournament’s top scorers in an absorbing first half, with both teams threatening a breakthrough as they refused to be overawed by the occasion.

    Eden Hazard twice went close, narrowly missing the target with a low, left-footed drive before seeing a curler with his right deflected over by the head of centre back Raphael Varane.

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    Hugo Lloris’ full-length dive kept out a first-time strike from Tottenham Hotspur colleague Toby Alderweireld, while Thibaut Courtois reacted quickly to block Benjamin Pavard’s attempt from a tight angle at the other end.

    While the fullback at least hit the target, Olivier Giroud failed to test Courtois when presented with a clear sight of goal by Kylian Mbappe’s volleyed cross, poking his attempt well wide under pressure.

    However, France needed just six minutes after the break to edge ahead.

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    After Vincent Kompany’s block turned away Giroud’s shot, Antoine Griezmann’s inswinging delivery to the front post was turned in by Umtiti, who beat Marouane Fellaini to head beyond Courtois.

    Roberto Martinez – who had seen his team rally from a two-goal deficit in their last-16 tie against Japan – reacted to the goal by sending on Dries Mertens in place of Mousa Dembele.

    The substitute offered a threat from Belgium’s right wing too, with one teasing cross from the flank seeing Fellaini narrowly miss the target with a header as he looked to make amends for his part in the opener.

    Axel Witsel tested Lloris from distance but France succeeded where Brazil had failed in the last round, standing firm to stifle their neighbours in a nervy finish and book a trip to Moscow.

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