France will play for the 2018 FIFA World Cup crown after beating Belgium 1-0 at the St. Petersburg Stadium in Russia on Tuesday.
Samuel Umtiti headed in from an Antoine Griezmann corner after 51 minutes, and Belgium failed to score for the first time this tournament as Romelu Lukaku's influence was quelled.
England and Croatia will fight for the second spot in the final on Wednesday when they meet at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
Mbappe Thrives on Big Stage
The world didn't need Paris Saint-Germain maestro Kylian Mbappe to convince them any more of his immense talent, but Tuesday's win over Belgium was a coming-of-age occasion for the 19-year-old on a grander scale.
France's striker was excellent as the wing provider, just as he is in Paris, and Statman Dave pointed to the speedster's terrific rate of production:
Griezmann and Olivier Giroud had the majority of attempts at goal for manager Didier Deschamps' men—six apiece, per WhoScored.com—but Mbappe was France's unselfish star of the show.
Belgium would have had a far easier day were it not for him buzzing towards the right byline, with his pace being the most obvious of his attributes at work, per Yahoo Sport UK:
But we know Mbappe is fast. Against the impressive troops of Belgium, it was his control—knowing when to use the ball, knowing when to release it—that fed a sophisticated display, per broadcaster Deji Faremi:
It was something other stars at this World Cup could do with learning.
One of his brightest moments came among a quartet of Belgian defenders on the edge of the enemy area, providing yet another suggestion of the cool Mbappe keeps at tense times, via Match of the Day (UK only):
He's won Ligue 1 with two clubs, was named in the 2016-17 UEFA Champions League Team of the Year and is one of the most expensive transfers in history, but Mbappe announced himself to the masses all over again in St. Petersburg.
It's incredible to think the Parisian is still only a teenager. We could look forward to two more decades—five more World Cups—of Mbappe magic on the biggest stages in the sport.
Lasting so long may be a big ask for a player whose strengths are centered around speed, which will deteriorate with age, but his all-around game could improve further in the years to come.
Courtois vs. Lloris Goalkeeper Duel Overshadows Star-Studded Attacks
With so much offensive quality assembled between the two teams, it was only natural that most of the talk in the buildup hovered around which attackers would dazzle—except the goalkeepers were the ones who ultimately caught the eye most.
France No. 1 Hugo Lloris and Belgium counterpart Thibaut Courtois perhaps weren't scripted to be the stars of the show, but then it makes sense that the level of attack should coax out the best a defence has to offer.
The Business Standard also hailed the fine work of Lloris in the opening 45 minutes:
Courtois of Chelsea and Lloris of Tottenham Hotspur flew a strong flag for the Premier League's stoppers and were frequently put under the microscope, as both attacks looked to be threats from open play and set pieces alike.
Writer Rehan Ulhaq concurred the two figures in between the posts were more of a draw than those looking to penetrate their lines:
Rehan Ulhaq @Rehan_ulhaq
Although it’s 0-0 but I enjoyed that half. 2 saves, 1 each by Lloris & Courtois, the highlights so far. With all the outfield talent in both teams, their GKs are overlooked sometimes. Will discuss that & more on Geo news tonight after the 1am bulletin (post-match show)
Lloris made a particularly impressive stretch to prevent Spurs team-mate from Toby Alderweireld scoring from a corner, and it's not the first time he's dazzled thus far in Russia:
Journalist Alasdair Gold described the rejuvenating effect this World Cup has had on the White Hart Lane star:
Courtois was almost helpless to prevent Umtiti from heading in the breakthrough, particularly given that Marouane Fellaini should have beaten the Frenchman to the ball while airborne.
If either England-based keeper has seen his reputation hurt in recent years, Tuesday's international showdown re-established his status as one of the finest in the world.
France Are Final Favourites Regardless of Opponent
Amid the raft of surprise names to go further than expected in Russia, France are the most logical pick to spoil that. The 1998 world champions proved why on Tuesday.
For all the tactical scrutiny he's encountered of late, Deschamps is a well-travelled and pragmatic coach, and Les Blues have shown a habit of contending for World Cup glory in the past two decades, per The Independent:
As if that didn't help form a strong enough foundation, they've had one of the glitziest squads in contention in Russia, and Paul Pogba, Griezmann and Mbappe had a big hand on Tuesday's result, per Fox Soccer:
Good teams at the World Cup tend to improve as the tournament goes on, and that's been the case with France. They followed a slow group stage by putting four past Argentina in the round of 16 and then had consecutive clean sheets over Uruguay and Belgium, neither of whom are pushovers.
A large chunk of this squad were present for the defeat to Portugal in the 2016 European Championship final, but in making the final in Russia, journalist Tancredi Palmeri noted they've accomplished something never done before:
With the emergence of right-back Benjamin Pavard, Lloris' steely form between the posts, a midfield comprised of stars such as N'Golo Kante and Pogba and plenty of riches in attack for Les Bleus, England and Croatia should both fear the prospect of facing them in the final on Sunday.