Samuel Umtiti headed France into the World Cup final on Tuesday as Didier Deschamps’ side stayed on course to repeat their triumph of 1998 after overcoming a vibrant Belgium team 1-0.
The tournament favourites must now wait 24 hours until they find out whether they will play England or Croatia in Sunday’s final in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium but they will approach the game full of confidence.
Belgium started the stronger of the two teams in Saint Petersburg but Umtiti’s header from a corner in the 51st minute forced the crucial breakthrough as the defender stole the limelight from jet-heeled Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann.
France’s other hero was goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who made a spectacular save in the first half to deny Toby Alderweireld and then kept out Alex Witsel’s drive as Belgium cranked up the pressure towards the end of the match.
France coach Deschamps said he was delighted to have the chance to bury the pain of the Euro 2016 final, which his side lost on home soil.
“I am very happy for my players,” Deschamps said. “It was hard against a very good Belgium team. I take my hat off to my players and my staff.”
Deschamps added: “Finals have to be won because we have still not got over the one we lost two years ago.”
Thousands of people celebrated the victory on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, letting off smoke flares.
France started the tournament in Russia slowly, struggling for goals in the group stages but hit their stride in an impressive 4-3 victory against Lionel Messi’s Argentina in the first knockout round.
Boasting an impressive combination of experience and youthful zest, they controlled their quarter-final against Uruguay, running out comfortable 2-0 winners.
The defeat is painful for Belgium, foiled at the semi-final for the second time in their history, as the clock ticks on their so-called “golden generation”.
Captain Eden Hazard dazzled in patches but Kevin De Bruyne was quiet and Romelu Lukaku was a shadow of the player he had been earlier in the tournament, even though Belgium dictated possession.