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XINHUA NEWS SERVICE REPORTS FROM THE AFRICAN CONTINENT

 

France win a game of narrow margins
to march on Moscow again    

ST PETERSBURG Russia (Xinhua) -- Small details win big matches between good sides and so it proved on Tuesday night when Samuel Umtiti’s 51st minute header gave France a 1-0 win over Belgium in the first World Cup semifinal.

Umtiti’s goal means France will go to Moscow while Belgium will remain in St Petersburg to contest 3rd and 4th place on Saturday.

They said it would be a tactical game: a game of systems, but also individuals, such as Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Kylian Mbappe, who can turn a game with their pace and touch.

France with their 4-2-3-1: with a strong backbone of Hugo Lloris, Raphael Varane, Umtiti, Ngolo Kante, Paul Pogba and Oliveir Giroud, allowing Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann room to roam and Blaise Matudi room on the left.

Belgium, flexible with three at the back, five in the middle and Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard dropping back, picking the ball deep, running, cutting inside and continually probing, looking for the ball into Romelu Lukaku.

The game ebbed and flowed like the waters of the Baltic, just a stone’s throw from the Saint Petersburg Stadium with Belgium dominating first, then France reacting before halftime.

De Bruyne and Hazard twice threatened at the start of the second half, before that moment Roberto Martinez warned about in his pre-game press conference happened: “You can’t lose concentration against France.”

But they did.

After 51 minutes Umtiti stole a yard on Marouane Fellaini from a corner and although it got a touch on the tall midfielder, his header ended up in the back on the net.

Giroud, always in the right place, but not always as clinical in his finishing had a chance to double the lead after Mbappe’s backheel, but Courtois, for the second time in the game, made a vital stop

Dries Mertens came on, Lloris punched his first cross clear and Fellaini headed his second wide.

Belgium were pressing, but vulnerable on the break with both Hazard and Toby Alderweireld booked for stopping counterattacks and Axel Witsel also lucky to escape similar punishment.

Witsel stung Lloris’s gloves from range, but the French keeper had a good view of it and the French were street smart enough to ensure Belgium didn’t trouble him again, while Griezmann could have killed the game off completely in injury time.

So France and thousands of their supporters will be in Moscow on Sunday: the last time that many French were in the Russian capital was with Napoleon in 1812. That time it didn’t end well, this time they will hope to truly conquer the city... and the World.

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EARLIER REPORTS:

Umtiti’s header decides fascinating World Cup semifinal between France and Belgium

ST PETERSBURG Russia  (Xinhua) -- France defeated Belgium 1-0 in the first World Cup semifinal on Tuesday night as a 51st minute header from central defender Samuel Umtiti decided a fascinating and entertaining game of football in which both sides had chances, but where France’s greater experience was the deciding factor in key moments of the match.

Umtiti scored the only goal of the game with a powerful header, which deflected off Marouane Fellaini to leave Belgium keeper Thibaut Courtois helpless.

Courtois made good saves from Olivier Giroud and Benjamin Pavard in the game, while Hugo Lloris also saved well from Axel Witsel as Belgium worked hard to get back into the game. However, it was a game of ‘nearly’ from Belgium who too often failed with the final pass.

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Martinez laments lack of magic as Belgium lose to France in World Cup semi

ST PETERSBURG Russia (Xinhua) -- Belgium coach, Roberto Martinez said he was proud of his players despite the narrow 1-0 defeat to France which saw them fall at the last hurdle before the World Cup finals.

Samuel Umtiti’s 51st minute header decided the game and France will play Sunday’s final, while Belgium will play in the game for third and fourth place on Saturday.

“I think today is a game that was very tight and there were not many big moments that were going to decide the game. I thought we were growing into the game when we conceded the goal from the corner. The difference between defeat and winning was down to one dead ball situation,” said Martinez.

“That first goal was going to be vital. If we’d scored, France would have opened up, but we didn’t, and it came down to a corner kick,” he lamented.

Martinez said his side had given everything they had and had not suffered nerves in the game, although he was sad their usual attacking football lacked a cutting edge.

“That little bit of composure in the final third that we usually have...we got into good situations, but not scoring the first goal meant it was difficult,” said the Belgium coach, who credited the “the way France defended...we couldn’t find that magic in front of goal.”

“The focus of the group was to win the tournament, so it’s a sad dressing room and that makes me proud,” he said, insisting Belgium would “give everything” to try and finish third.

“You are disappointed because you have lost the semifinal, but you need to regroup and recover and see another game as an opportunity. We have to understand it is an important game.”

“Belgian football has a wealth of young talent coming through,” said Martinez looking to the future.

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