St. Petersburg, July 11: France edged past Belgium 1-0 to book their place in the final of the FIFA World Cup in a rip-roaring semi-final clash here on Tuesday. Centre-back Samuel Umtiti headed home from close range in the 51st minute and that proved to be the winner in a match littered with goal-scoring opportunities.
Belgium played with a lot of gusto as skipper Eden Hazard led from the front making jinking runs throughout the game down the right channel. But the goal would just not come for the Roberto Martinez-coached side who were in the semis for the first time since 1986.
France, who will play the World Cup final for the first time since 2006, will either take on England or Croatia in the summit clash on Sunday. The match began at a breakneck pace with Belgium bossing possession initially only for the French to catch up.
Kylian Mbappe danced forward inside the first 10 seconds and crossed low for Antoine Griezmann who failed to get on the end of it. Hazard then put in a dangerous cross which was turned behind by Umtiti. It was an end-to-end affair as Kevin De Bruyne lobbed a pass to Hazard who shot past the post.
France took time to work Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois who smothered a Blaise Matuidi effort in the 19th minute. Then, moments later, at the other end, Hazard's goal-bound shot was flicked over the bar by the retreating Raphael Varane.
Hugo Lloris was forced into a brilliant save at the other end too when his Tottenham teammate Toby Alderweireld took aim after a corner. For France, Olivier Giroud and Griezmann came close to scoring after the half-hour mark before Benjamin Pavard was set up by the brilliant Mbappe only for Courtois to stick his leg out and divert the ball. It was travesty that both teams went into the break locked goal-less.
Belgium fell behind minutes into the second period when Umtiti leaped ahead of Marouane Fellaini to head home a corner taken by Griezmann. Belgium probed on numerous occasions as Lukaku came the closest to scoring in the dying minutes of the game after De Bruyne's stunning lofted pass teed the Manchester United striker up.
Six minutes of injury time provided Belgium with hope but France ran the clock down and almost made it 2-0 as Griezmann and then Corentin Tolisso's shots were well saved by Courtois.