Samuel Umtiti’s 51st-minute header sent France into the World Cup final with a ruthless 1-0 win over Belgium in an absorbing first semi-final on Tuesday.
Didier Deschamps’ side will face England or Croatia in Moscow on Sunday as the French look to lift the trophy for the second time following their triumph on home soil in 1998.
In an enthralling, albeit highly tactical rather than incident-packed match, it was once again a set-piece that proved decisive with Umtiti’s near-post header from an Antoine Griezmann corner settling matters.
Having gained the lead, France showed the defensive nous to nullify the threat from Belgium’s Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne, closing out the game for a win that sent them to their second straight major tournament final, following their loss to Portugal in Euro 2016.
It had been suggested that France needed to step up a level in quality to get past the Belgians and they did just that even if their disciplined, professional performance hardly set the pulses racing.
But the worrying factor for Croatia or England is that France still look to have another gear to move into.
Deschamps, coach at Euro 2016 and captain of the 1998 World Cup winners, suggested as much.
“We showed character and mentality, it was very hard for us tonight. We worked hard defensively, we needed to take advantage a bit more in the counter-attacks but congratulations to my players and my staff,” he said.
Belgium manager Roberto Martinez was left frustrated by his team missing out to a set-piece goal, a familiar outcome in this tournament.
“Unfortunately for us the difference was a dead-ball situation. The game was very close, very tight and it was going to be decided by a little bit of luck in front of goal,” he said.
France can begin to prepare for the final at the Luzhniki Stadium, eager to avoid a repeat of 2006 when they were beaten by Italy on penalties in Berlin and the pain of the loss to Portugal on home soil in 2016.