France booked a place in Sunday’s World Cup final for only the third time in their history as they overcame Belgium to win 1-0, in a tight contest at the Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg.
Samuel Umtiti scored the crucial goal to send Les Bleus to Moscow with a thundering header from an Antoine Griezmann corner, to set up a final clash with either England or Croatia.
Belgium came through the quarter-finals by impressively beating Brazil, but were unable to find an equaliser, failing to reach an inaugural final.
The Red Devils leave the competition after only their second defeat under Roberto Martinez as their golden generation’s hopes of World Cup glory came crashing down.
The night belonged to Didier Deschamps’ side who were on the back foot for large periods of the game but emerged victorious to reach their third World Cup final, having been beaten by Italy in their last attempt on penalties in 2006.
The game immediately fired into life when Kylian Mbappé screamed down the wing with his extreme pace, skinning Mousa Dembélé and placing a teasing cross that eventually came to nothing.
The Red Devils looked the most dangerous side early on, however, on with Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne causing the French defence problems early on.
The best chance of the opening 15 saw France lazy in possession as Belgium press high to win the ball back, De Bruyne slotted in Hazard who fired with his left across at a tricky angle with the ball eluding Lloris and just edging wide past the post.
Some heroic defending from Raphael Varane once again denied that man Hazard. The Real Madrid defender rose up the very crown of his head to divert Hazard’s shot over the top.
Les Bleus somehow avoided another potential opening goal as once again some heroic last-ditch defending stopped Belgium from getting a deserved lead.
A Belgium corner fell to Toby Alderweireld who swivelled smartly and dug out a shot off his left foot, it looked to be curling into the top corner but once again the impenetrable Hugo Lloris was there to claw it out.
The best chance for France fell to the man who was yet to register a single shot on target this World Cup and once again Oliver Giroud failed to convert.
Mbappe was free in acres of space and a long ball from N’Golo Kante found the 19-year-old wonder-kid. He picked the ball up far on the right but cushioned it beautifully into the middle and Giroud was there with the goal in his grasp. He almost slipped making contact with the cross and his left foot puts it agonizingly wide.
France were on the back foot for the majority of the first-half and yet they should have gone into half-time ahead. Mbappe played a lovely ball from the wing into his underlapping right-back Benjamin Pavard.
Pavard was suddenly through on goal and he tried to clip it across the keeper but the big strong Thibaut Courtois made a fine save with his legs.
The second half brought an early chance for the Red Devils. Witsel delivered an inch-perfect cross to Lukaku who was free in the box but the Manchester United striker fired over.
However, despite Belgium dominating the early chances it was France who punished Martinez and his side for failing to convert in the first-half.
Griezmann curled in a corner, left-footed with precision to the near post and Umtiti came flying to the near post, thundering a header off the very apex of Marouane Fellaini’s hair and flew past Courtois to put Les Bleus in the driving seat for the final.
Once again, another sensational moment from Mbappe followed the opening goal. The teenager left Vincent Kompany is before seconds later laying off exquisite back-heel to elegantly free Giroud, but the Chelsea man once again had his shot blocked.
Belgium trailing saw the Red Devils become desperate and they began chasing the game and they became more and more open. One bad touch once again allowed Mbappe to fly away down the right, he pinged a ball over to Griezmann, who went one more to Giroud who again frustratingly fired over.
Axel Witsel came close once again for Belgium later in the game, fizzing a fine effort through the air with loads of spin testing Lloris but the French captain did well to punch clear.
Questions were being asked of French nerves and the outstanding Varane once again showed his quality to superbly deny Hazard with an inch-perfect tackle on the edge of the area.
Mbappe continued to frustrate Belgian defender with Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen picking up bookings.
The Red Devils couldn’t find that crucial goal as France held out to reach yet another final under Deschamps.
They will undoubtedly be the favourites whoever they face on Sunday as they look to win their second World Cup after their triumph on home soil in 1998.