Samuel Umtiti enhanced his burgeoning reputation as one of the game’s most improved players when he headed the only goal as France beat Belgium to reach their first World Cup finals since 2006 when they lost to Italy on penalties.
Umtiti was a bit part player two years ago when France lost the Euro 2016 final to Portugal but he’s grown in leaps and bounds.
The FC Barcelona defender was immense at both ends of the pitch, pocketing Belgium’s giant centre forward Romelu Lukaku, before towering above 6ft6 Red Devils midfielder Marouane Fellaini to head home a 51st minute corner kick.
France were the better team after the interval. Already the second most expensive footballer, teen sensation Kyrian Mbappe, was at the centre of the game’s biggest moment of inspiration, back heeling with aplomb, only for a last ditch tackle to deny Olivier Giroud.
Martinez threw the kitchen sink at France by bringing on Dries Martens, Yannick Carrasco and Michy Batshuayi for midfielders Moussa Dembele and Fellaini but they couldn’t breach France’s back four excellently commanded by four time Champions League winner Raphael Varane.
Roberto Martinez’s side begun the game stronger, with captain Eden Hazard repeatedly tormenting French right back Benjamin Pavard, only for his finishing touch to desert him. But it was Pavard who almost put France ahead as the first half wore on. Thibaut Courtois had to be at full stretch to divert the Stuttgart’s defender shot out for a corner kick.
French President Emmanuel Macron was on hand to support Les Bleus boss Didier Deschamps as he improved his chances of becoming only the third person in World Cup history after Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbeur to win the tournament as both a player and manager.
Les Bleus will meet the winner of Wednesday’s semifinal between England and Croatia.