With a 1-0 win over Belgium in St Petersburg, France reached the World Cup final for the third time in 20 years, on Tuesday, all thanks to the unlikely hero Samuel Umtiti.
The Barca centre-back Umtiti headed home a corner from star-man Antoine Griezmann in the 51st minute of the semi-final to settle the all-European tie, booking France a trip to Moscow and a clash against either Croatia or England.
Goalkeepers Hugo Lloris and Thibaut Courtois both made several good saves to keep the game scoreless at the interval.
However, Umtiti popped up with the tie’s defining moment early in the second half, nodding the ball into net to score his third international goal.
Belgium pushed hard for an equaliser but suffered their first defeat in last 25 outings, ending their hopes of winning their maiden World Cup as their so-called golden generation came up short.
Runner-ups at the Euro 2016 on home soil, Les Bleus will aim to clinch the final in Russia and emulate the success of the class of 1998 which included Didier Deschamps, who could emulate Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer by winning the World Cup as both a player and manager.
With their impactful wing-back Thomas Meunier suspended, Belgium was forced to shift to a back four as Roberto Martinez selected Nacer Chadli at an unfamiliar right-back position.
Although the change in formation did not appear to bother the competition’s top-scorers in an absorbing first half. Eden Hazard went close twice, narrowly missing the target.
However, France needed just six minutes after the break to edge ahead.
After Olivier Giroud’s shot was turned away by Vincent Kompany’s block, Griezmann’s inswinging delivery to the front post was turned in by Umtiti, who beat Marouane Fellaini to head the ball home and send France into the final.
With one finalist slot already booked by the Les Bleus, all eyes are now on the other semi-final tie between England and Croatia.