“We have some players crying in the changing room, and I’m sure that many Portuguese fans are as well,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said. “We were confident with our chances of winning the European title and we thought we could win it. Portugal deserved to win this match but it didn’t happen.”
Samuel Umtiti scored the only goal of the 1st semi-final at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, with the French defender’s 51st-minute header the difference as Les Blues edged Belgium to send them through to the final on Wednesday night.
The final before the final, as it was coined by many fans and pundits alike, was supposed to be a goalfest due to the sensational array of attacking talents on both sides but in the end it wasn’t largely down to some jaw-dropping saves from Thibaut Courtois and Hugo Lloris.
Both custodians deserved the Man of the Match awards, for after a frenetic first-half, the score was still 0-0.
Kylian Mbappe, after putting Argentina to the sword in the last-16, was in the mood and causing the Belgian defence all sorts of problems with his pace and guile.
Belgium were in the mix as well, with Eden Hazard flashing a shot just wide in the 15th minute, while Blaise Matuid’s fierce half-volley was straight at Courtois and the custodian gathered without any fuss.
As the match progressed, Belgium started to emerge as the stronger of the sides and Hugo Lloris would make two remarkable saves to preserve his side’s clean sheet in the space of seconds while Les Blues fullback Benjamin Pavard would fail to put away the chance of the half when clean through on goal.
Courtois came to his side’s rescue and at half-time, things were pretty even steven.
However, the complexion of the tie changes within minutes of the restart as Umtiti beat Marouane Fellaini to head home Antoine Griezmann’s corner.
The French centre-back hadn’t been having the best of games up until then, but all was forgotten as he scored what turned out to be the winner in a tight affair at the Saint Petersburg Arena.
And it could have been 2-0 in a blink of an eye as Mbappe set up Olivier Giroud with an unreal bit of skill but the Mousa Dembele and Courtois combined to deny the burly forward from stretching France’s lead.
Belgium, as expected, upped the ante and while they were always ahead in the possession battle, truly started to make inroads towards Lloris’ goal after going behind.
Hazard took charge and started to weave his magic, but with Lukaku having one of his off nights, it was all for nought as France held on for the win.
Even Dries Mertens’ second-half introduction couldn’t do the job and while there were a flurry of yellow cards as the match drew to a close, arguably Les Bleus had the better chances at the death and very nearly could have doubled their lead.
They will have the better part of the week to prepare for the final, with the winner of the Croatia-England tie set to play them on Sunday.