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WORLD CUP

France beat Belgium 1-0 to book place in World Cup final

France's Les Bleus beat the Belgium's Red Devils 1-0 in the World Cup semi-final in St Petersburg on Tuesday night to book a place in the World Cup final against either Croatia or England.

France beat Belgium 1-0 to book place in World Cup final
AFP

Samuel Umtiti headed France into  the World Cup final in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday with a 1-0 win, consigning  Belgium's 'golden generation' to another bitter disappointment.

France's own supremely talented young squad will aim to make amends for  defeat on home soil in the final of Euro 2016 in Sunday's showpiece against England or Croatia.

In a World Cup replete with set-piece goals, a corner again proved decisive  when Umtiti timed his run perfectly to meet Antoine Griezmann's delivery six minutes into the second half.

France were thankful for fine saves from goalkeeper Hugo Lloris either side of half-time.

Belgium's Kevin De Bruyne warned Kylian Mbappe was ready to take the world by storm on the eve of the game and the most expensive teenager in the history of football showed why inside the first 60 seconds.

He skipped past Jan Vertonghen with ease and only a last-ditch tackle by  Vincent Kompany prevented Griezmann from latching onto his cross.

Thibaut Courtois rushed from his goal just in time to save Vertonghen again from Mbappe's pace on 12 minutes, but it was Belgium who started the better in possession.

One of the Red Devils' many French connections was the biggest danger as Eden Hazard, who began his career with Lille in Ligue 1, pulled the first attempt of goal just beyond the far post.

The Chelsea forward's next effort was arrowing into the top corner until it flicked off Raphael Varane's head and deflected just over.

Lloris and Courtois played a huge part their sides' quarter-final wins and it was only thanks to two of the best 'keepers in the world the game remained  goalless at half-time.

First, Lloris flew to his right to turn Toby Alderweireld's shot on the turn behind.

At the other end, Mbappe demonstrated the subtler side to his game to play in Benjamin Pavard, but Courtois used his massive 6ft 5ins (199 centimetre) frame to deny the Stuttgart full-back his second goal of the tournament.

Didier Deschamps' men ended the opening period on top, but again Olivier Giroud looked short of confidence as the focal point of the French attack. 

Giroud has not scored in eight games and is yet to even have a shot on target in Russia.

His best chance arrived via more good work from Mbappe with a cushioned cross, but the Chelsea striker could only slice horribly wide on his favoured left foot.

Giroud did at least have a part to play in the decisive opener as, after his shot was deflected wide, Griezmann's corner was flicked in at the near post by Umtiti.

Once in front, France had even more space to exploit Mbappe's pace, but it was a majestic piece of skill that nearly created a second with a backheel that again freed Giroud only for Mousa Dembele to block.

Roberto Martinez introduced an extra attacker in Dries Mertens in an attempt to turn the tide and he nearly had an immediate impact as his cross was headed inches wide by Marouane Fellaini.

That was as close as Belgium came to taking the game to extra-time, though, as Lloris parried a long-range piledriver from Axel Witsel.

But for Courtois, France's margin of victory would have been even greater as he made saves from Griezmann and Corentin Tolisso in stoppage time.

For the generation of Hazard, De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku, beating Brazil in the quarter-finals was meant to be the breakthrough on route to winning a major tournament.

Instead, it proved to be another false dawn as France march on to Moscow.

French president Emmanuel Macron was in Saint Petersburg to witness the victory.

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FOOTBALL

France plans to keep growing women’s game after World Cup disappointment

France faces the challenge of continuing to develop women's football after the bitter disappointment of elimination from the World Cup by the United States.

France plans to keep growing women's game after World Cup disappointment
France players after the defeat against USA. Photo: AFP

“Back to Earth” was how sports daily L'Equipe put it after the host nation lost 2-1 to the holders in a quarter-final played out before a feverish crowd in Paris.

L'Equipe talked of “the disappointment of a shattered adventure” because coach Corinne Diacre's team had dreamt of emulating the men, World Cup winners in Russia last year and also winners as hosts in 1998.

The team had been desperate to make it to Lyon, where the semi-finals and final will be played and where seven of those who featured for France on Friday play their club football for Europe's top side.

Instead, France find themselves out of a fifth straight major tournament in the quarter-finals. To rub salt into the wounds, Friday's defeat had the knock-on effect of denying them a place at next year's Olympics.

Diacre had been set the objective of reaching the final, which always looked a daunting challenge once the draw raised the likelihood of an early meeting with the USA.

Amid the dejection on Friday, Diacre stated her wish to continue, and on Saturday French Football Federation (FFF) President Noel Le Graet confirmed she would stay.

“She will be in charge until the end of her contract, if not longer,” Le Graet told AFP.

That means until Euro 2021 in England at least, and the aim in France is to keep developing the women's game to give them a chance of one day going all the way.

The FFF hope the number of registered female players will reach 200,000 next year, an increase of almost 10 percent from present figures, but far from the two million registered male players.

They have also promised to invest 15 million euros into a post-World Cup “legacy” fund.

The interest in the women's game is there, as shown by television audiences during the World Cup, with 11.8 million watching the USA game on terrestrial TV.

However, translating that to an increased following in the women's domestic league will be a bigger challenge.

France games have drawn sell-out crowds at the World Cup, but in general attendances in domestic competition are modest at best, even if almost 26,000 saw powerhouses Lyon beat closest rivals Paris Saint-Germain earlier this year.

“We cannot go from so much enthusiasm now to league matches on poor pitches with only 120 fans,” said Le Graet. “We all need to make an effort and we will.”

Matches are televised, but like elsewhere income remains light years from rights deals in the men's game — a new sponsorship contract for the 12-club top flight with chemicals company Arkema is worth one million euros per season for three years.

Average salaries are reportedly around 3,500 euros per month, although stars like Amandine Henry and Wendie Renard are believed to earn almost 10 times that at Lyon, who have won the Champions League in the last four years. Again, those sums are dwarfed by the wages often on offer to the men.

“We need to keep putting money in, keep professionalising, because other countries are doing it and maybe that's why they are ahead of us,” warned Lyon and France forward Eugenie Le Sommer.

“We have a good league but unfortunately not every team is professional.

“There are countries who are ahead of us and we must catch up. Even Spain are putting lots of money in and we need to make sure we are not left behind.”

READ ALSO: France coach laments 'failure' as hosts knocked out of World Cup

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