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France nips Belgium, 1-0, Tuesday and will face either England or Croatia in Sunday’s championship matches

Belgium’s high-scoring offense was shut down by the stingy France defense in an exciting, well-played game  

By Arnie Leshin 
Arnie Leshin

Viva la France. Now it waits to see who it will line up against in Sunday’s

soccer World Cup championship played in Moscow, Russia. It will be either England or Croatia and they play Wednesday night.

Last night, France needed a goal by midfielder Samuel Umitti in the 51st minute and stellar defense that frustrated Belgium, the highest-scoring team in the sport’s most global event, 1-0, before 64,266 at Arena St. Petersburg.

Belgium, which was looking for its initial spot in the finals, had possession of the ball 60 percent to France’s 40 percent. But most of it came late in the second half when it worked its way to the France goal numerous times but contained by the defense. There were several times that France stopped shots that were heading for the goal.

The frustration showed for Belgium as it made a final push. In one sequence, it brought 3-straight yellow cards and had 16 for the match to France’s six. There was one time that a France player was knocked down four times in only two minutes, but there were also times that it happened to Belgium and the referee didn’t call any fouls.

The second-youngest group in the field, it was the fourth shutout for France in this World Cup, with only Argentina scoring three goals and losing 4-3. It now plays in its second World Cup championship game for the first time since 1998, and it stopped Belgium’s 24-match win streak, its first defeat since 2016.

Credit must also go to France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. Ranked sixth best in the recent poll of the world’s top goalies, he put forth yet another stellar effort with saves to the right or left of him, in addition to one that sailed high and might have gone in if he didn’t block it. Belgium keeper Thibaul Countis, ranked third, surrendered just the one goal and also made some remarkable saves.

It was scoreless in the 51st minute when a header from midfielder Antoine Gniezman went to Umiitti, and he headed it past Countis from the right side, six yards out, and the French faithful showed its delight.

Now France continued to display its quick offense, but it was the defense that was stingy. It retreated every time Belgium passed its way to scoring threats, and it set up to stop Belgium every time it would try to get the ball into the goal. It was Belgium attempting to tie the match and France protecting its slim lead until the final whistle.

It especially took away any goals from Belgium’s leading scorer, midfielder Kevin de Broynce. He was held in check by several defenders and that also kept de Broynce from getting away passes and headers, the things he does best as team captain.

Rankings didn’t matter much in this well-played match. Belgium had been ranked third and Franceseventh. But most important, the versatility of France brought it 19 shots on goal to nine for Belgium, which was far better than Belgium committing more fouls.

So while England and Croatia watched this match from their hotels, now it will be France’s turn to see who it plays in the final. The consolation game for third place will be contested Saturday. From the 32-nation field, this is how it will conclude until 2022.

And not to forget that France went into this World Cup with a confident slogan of “We believe.”

Wonder why it’s the most popular sport in the globe? Well, for a World Cup played in four different sites in Russia, the average attendance rounds out to 67,246 with two games still to be played. There weren’t empty seats at any of the sites.

Play on.

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