Three thoughts from the first World Cup semifinal as France frustrated Belgium on their way to a 1-0 victory.
France are through to the World Cup final and stand on the verge of a first title since 1998. Didier Deschamps' side deserved this narrow victory over a Belgium team that began well but ran out of ideas and rarely looked close to equalising Samuel Umtiti's 50th-minute goal. Les Bleus will face England or Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday and having navigated a tough route through the knock-out stages, they'll feel confident of finishing the job now.
It took 15 minutes for either team to muster a genuine sight of goal. Eden Hazard had the half-chance, flashing an angled shot wide from the left side of the area after Kevin de Bruyne had seized on a defensive mistake, and the Chelsea playmaker was the liveliest player on the pitch early on. Shortly afterwards he cut inside and saw a goal-bound shot deflected over by Raphael Varane; it was the less familiar figure of Toby Alderweireld, though, who came even closer to scoring, forcing a stunning save from Hugo Lloris after his shot on the turn after a half-cleared corner.
France took time to find their feet but ended the first half on top. Olivier Giroud flicked a header wide and then somehow failed to get a clean contact on Kylian Mbappe's perfect volleyed cross.
Benjamin Pavard was then denied by the foot of Thibaut Courtois after fine approach work from Mbappe and the only surprise by the interval was that the game remained goal-less.
Yet it wouldn't remain 0-0 for long once the second half began. In the 50th minute France got their goal via straightforward means, Umtiti out-jumping Marouane Fellaini and powering home a header from Antoine Griezmann's whipped corner.
Giroud had two sights of a quick second goal shortly afterwards but in keeping with a frustrating performance from the striker, they were snuffed out.
Openings for Belgium were scarce as they sought a way back. Fellaini looked to atone for his mistake but headed narrowly wide from 12 yards, and Axel Witsel saw a long-range shot beaten away by Lloris, but their efforts extended to little more than huff and puff.