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France punched a ticket to the 2018 World Cup finals for the first time since 2006 after beating Belgium 1-0 on Tuesday at St. Petersburg.

Defender Samuel Umtiti buried a header in the 51st minute to lift France to its first World Cup finals appearance in 12 years and its third championship appearance in 20 years.

France will go for its second World Cup trophy in 20 years. The French last won the World Cup in 1998 in their home turf against Brazil via a score of 3-0. They also made it to the finals in 2006 but lost to Italy via penalties, 5-3.

“I’m not going to get much sleep tonight,” Umtiti says. “It’s going to be hard to nod off. But I don’t need to anyway; I’m not tired. I don’t care.”

Les Bleus will go up against the winner of the England-Croatia clash on July 15 at Luzhniki Stadium. Belgium will play the loser for third place on July 14 at St. Petersburg.

Umtiti Man Of The Moment For France

Umtiti’s heroics brought the memory of their 1998 semifinal win over Croatia, where another defender, Lilian Thuram, stepped up for France. Umtiti is hoping that Thuram’s heroics could be a positive indication in the championship match.

“I hope it’s a sign,” Umtiti stresses. “It is different, though. Let’s take one thing at a time. We need to rest up for Sunday now.”

Umtiti almost became the goat rather than hero of the match after his misguided clearance gave Belgium a chance to grab the lead. Luckily for Les Bleus, Romelu Lukaku failed to capitalize on the opportunity.

“When you’re a footballer, you know that a thousand different things can happen in a match. As soon as one thing’s gone, you have to move on to the next, no matter whether you got it right or made a mistake,” Umtiti said.

Both Teams Struggled In First Half

Both teams came close to scoring in the first half but failed to capitalize. Belgium captain Eden Hazard had a chance to put his team on the board but missed against goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. Lloris also made a key save against Toby Alderweireld, while Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois denied Benjamin Pavard’s attempt.

In the second half, Umtiti escaped the defense of Marouane Fellaini and met Antoine Griezmann’s corner kick with a header that went past Courtois for a 1-0 lead for the French. Les Bleus also tightened their defense down the stretch, ensuring that Belgium won’t have any chance to tie the game.

With the win, France made it to the finals without losing a game. In the group stage, Les Bleus beat Australia (2-1) and Peru (1-0) before settling for a scoreless draw with Denmark in Group C. In the round of 16, France beat Argentina, 4-3, before ousting Uruguay, 2-0, in the quarterfinal.

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