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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 20 July 2018

2018 World Cup semi-final as it happened: France are in World Cup final

Two European nations meet in Saint Petersburg for a place in Sunday's World Cup final

France's Samuel Umtiti celebrates opening the scoring. Reuters
France's Samuel Umtiti celebrates opening the scoring. Reuters

12am - France are in the World Cup final

For the third time in 20 years France are in the World Cup final.

Samuel Umtiti's header in the 51st minute is enough to sink Belgium 1-0.

Belgium tried their best to find a way back but a poor final ball and an inspired Hugo Lloris denied them.

They will face Croatia or England in Sunday's final in Moscow.

11.35pm - Belgium getting frustrated

If anything sums up the Belgian mood at present it is the strained look on Kevin De Bruyne's face after lashing a shot over from outside the area.

Belgium are getting frustrated. It is not happening for them at the moment.

These are the moments that define sides. Do Belgium have an answer or are France going to a third final in 20 years. Fifteen minutes to go.

11.25pm - France holding on

Belgium are trying to find a way to save their World Cup dreams.

Marouane Fellaini sends a header just past the post with Hugo Lloris stretching and Roberto Martinez's men are beginning to push France back.

It could be a long final 25 minutes for France if they are to reach Sunday's final.

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11.10pm - France lead thanks to Umtiti

Another set-piece goal. Who would have thought it. After all the intricate moves of both sides it is France who lead.

Belgium fail to pick up Samuel Umtiti and he heads home at the near post early in the second half.

Belgium have come from behind in the knockout stages before, against Japan in the last 16, and they need to do it again here.

10.45pm - France 0 Belgium 0 at half time

No idea how this is still goalless. Both sides have attacked with real intent and both Hugo Lloris, the France goalkeeper, and Thibaut Courtois, the Belgium No 1, have made excellent stops.

Belgium were the better side for the opening 25 minutes, but France got into the game as the half wore on and will feel they have built some momentum.

It will be intriguing to see which manager blinks first in the second half and makes a change.

10.35pm - France retaliate

Curse of the blog. Having highlighted Belgium's dominance, France have enjoyed their best spell in the past five minutes.

It takes a last-gasp clearance to keep the ball away from Olivier Giroud after an intelligent knockdown from Kylian Mbappe.

Antoine Griezmann is troubling the Belgian defence with his pace and he drags a shot wide after a fine run.

Both sides who great with the ball, less so when having to defend.

This has been a great semi-final so far. It just needs a goal now.

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10.30pm - Belgium are on top

Only the brilliance of Hugo Lloris is denying Belgium right now.

He makes a terrific save from Toby Alderweireld, while Eden Hazard has a goal-bound effort deflected over.

Belgium have been magnificent so far and France have to hope they can get to half time with it still goalless and try to regroup from there.

10.10pm - France v Belgium underway

We are underway in Saint Petersburg. Ten minutes in and Belgium have had the better of the early play, with Chelsea's Eden Hazard already threatening.

Belgium, remember, have never been to a World Cup final.

France have looked good when they have got to the Belgian final third, but Kylian Mbappe has had a quiet start.

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9.50pm - Pressure is on

Ten minutes until France and Belgium duke it out for a place in Sunday's World Cup final.

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez has picked Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Mousa Dembele to replace Thomas Meunier for the World Cup semifinal against France.

Martinez has been forced to reshuffle his back line after Paris Saint-Germain wing back Meunier was suspended for the match in St. Petersburg after picking up his second yellow card of the tournament in Belgium's 2-1 quarterfinal win over Brazil.

After using a four-man defense against Brazil, Martinez has reverted to a three-man backline and four-man midfield of Nacer Chadli on the left, Dembele on the right, and Marouane Fellaini and Axel Witsel in the middle.

France coach Didier Deschamps has recalled Blaise Matuidi in the only change to his lineup for the World Cup semifinal against Belgium at St. Petersburg Stadium.

Matuidi, who was suspended for the 2-0 quarterfinal win over Uruguay last Friday, comes into midfield to replace Corentin Tolisso.

Veteran striker Olivier Giroud hasn't scored yet in the tournament but needs one goal to move ahead of France great Zinedine Zidane on France's all-time list. Giroud keeps his place in a forward line featuring 19-year-old sensation Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann.

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6.20pm - How do Croatia beat England?

Wednesday's semi-final between Croatia and England is almost too close to call. Both sides have impressed, but something has got to give.

John McAuley, who has watched plenty of Croatia in Russia, looks at three ways they can beat England to reach the final.

Read it here: How Croatia can beat England in the World Cup semi-final

Luka Modric, centre, is Croatia's captain, chief creator and best player. Ryan Pierse / Getty Images
Luka Modric, centre, is Croatia's captain, chief creator and best player. Ryan Pierse / Getty Images

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4.30pm - Davor Suker: Luka is Croatia's leader

Davor Suker, president of the Croatian Football Federation has backed captain Luka Modric to handle the pressure of trying to guide his country to a first World Cup final.

The Real Madrid midfielder, 33 in September, has been instrumental in Croatia’s journey to the World Cup semi-finals this past month, where on Wednesday they meet England in Moscow.

Modric undoubtedly makes Croatia tick, though. Yet Suker, an integral component of the Croatia team that took bronze in 1998, insists Modric can shoulder the responsibility that comes with his side’s historic quest in Russia.

“He is the leader. That’s what we need to have,” said Suker, who was the tournament's top scorer 20 years ago. “Sometimes you need to have this kind of guy.

"We had it with Zvonimir Boban in 1998: that huge name, that huge person. So you need to have these guys. At that time, we had a lot of players at the best clubs in the world, like what’s happening now and we’re so glad.”

Suker also added that Modric, who in May won a fourth Uefa Champions League crown with Madrid, should be awarded this year’s Ballon d’Or.

Luka Modric, second right, has proved a good leader of the Croatia side as captain according to Davor Suker. EPA
Luka Modric, second right, has proved a good leader of the Croatia side as captain according to Davor Suker. EPA

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1.30pm - The best World Cup memes

As the World Cup rolls on to its climax with the final Sunday, it’s inevitable that more memes would start making an appearance.

Sure, you could win the World Cup but you might be forgotten four years later, so why not be immortalised as something the internet will remember forever?

Evelyn Lau from our arts & life section has complied some of the best so far.

Neymar rolling ...

Harry Maguire's swag ...

It's coming home ...

Firmino's (very) bright smile ...

Genius.

Check out the rest of the best World Cup memes so far here.

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1pm - Nervous? You wouldn't know it from watching England

It seems to be catching.

England, preparing for their third World Cup semi-final match ever! Their first since the heartache of losing to West Germany on penalties at Italia 90, and the players are throwing red and blue rubber chickens to each other in training.

Does no one understand? This is the semi-finals of the World Cup, people!

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12pm - Nervous? You wouldn't know it from watching Belgium

If Belgium's players are nervous ahead of their semi-final against France in Saint Petersburg, the players are doing a good job of hiding it.

Belgium trained at their base camp near Moscow on Monday before heading to Saint Petersburg for their semi-final against France.

It was a relaxed atmosphere, with the likes of Vincent Kompany horsing around with fellow teammates while captain Eden Hazard and key midfielder Kevin de Bruyne showing off their skills on the ball.

WATCH

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11am - And then there were four

Only four teams remain in the 2018 World Cup, with France and Belgium contesting the first semi-final on Tuesday before Croatia and England face off on Wednesday. Whichever side can win two more games will therefore be crowned champions.

France are bidding to win a first world crown since Didier Deschamps, the current France manager, lifted the trophy as captain on home soil 20 years ago.

Can modern-day Les Bleus emulate their heroes of 1998 and win a World Cup semi-final? France's unlikely hero that day was defender Lilian Thuram, who scored the only goals of his 142-cap international career in a 2-0 win over Croatia.

Belgium will hoping to go one better than their predecessors of 1986, when a diminutive Argentinian by the name of Diego Maradona scored twice to end the dreams of Enzo Scifo and Co in Mexico.

Kick off for tonight's match is 10pm UAE time, so we've still got some time.

Rather than sit there twiddling your thumbs, check out our preview coverage.

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EXTRA TIME PODCAST

Our very own Jon Turner and Steve Luckings have been in the studio to give their insight on the two semi-final match-ups as well as their predictions.

Luckings successfully predicted all the quarter-final winners, with Turner only backing England to overcome Sweden to reach the last four.

So take a listen as both offer their thoughts on which two teams will progress to Sunday's final.

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Read more

Extra Time podcast: France and Belgium evenly-matched but England too strong for Croatia - predicting World Cup semi-finals

Thierry Henry: the French legend plotting his country's downfall as part of Belgium's coaching staff

Richard Jolly: Chance for greatness at the mercy of France or Belgium's golden generations

World Cup 2018 semi-final predictions: Belgium defeat France as England beat Croatia

After Brazil 'miracle', Belgium ready for 'even tougher' World Cup assignment against France

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France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, left, in training, is aware he and his teammates will need to be at their best to beat Belgium. AP Photo
France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, left, in training, is aware he and his teammates will need to be at their best to beat Belgium. AP Photo

Lloris vows France must have 'no regrets' against Belgium

Hugo Lloris described it as peculiar and that felt about right.

On Tuesday, when the France captain lines up against Belgium in Saint Petersburg, for a place in the World Cup final, he will look across at the opposition and see a lot of extremely familiar faces.

Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Mousa Dembele, current Tottenham Hotspur teammates. Nacer Chadli, a former colleague.

On the bench, too, where Thierry Henry, France’s leading goalscorer with whom he once shared an international dressing room, now serves as Belgium’s assistant manager. "His heart will be split," offered Loris on Monday.

So peculiar about sums it up. Yet friendships will have to be put on hold. For 90 minutes, 120, or perhaps even more. After all, it is a World Cup semi-final.

“We do know them very well,” Lloris said. “All their players play in great clubs, most in the Premier League, so we know them more than well. And they know us more than well. There are going to be great players on the pitch, it’s going to be a great match and we have to live it fully.

“And, most importantly, we’re going to have to leave the pitch with no regrets; with the impression we’ve given everything.”

Read what else the France goalkeeper and captain had to say ahead of the match here.

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The French legend plotting his country's downfall

Didier Deschamps, France manager, and Thierry Henry’s captain when the World Cup and 2000 European Championship were won by Les Bleus, calls it “bizarre” that his compatriot will be on the opposing bench this afternoon, encouraging not Kylian Mbappe but the likes of Romelu Lukaku.

Henry remains France’s record goalscorer, with 51 goals from his 123 internationals over 13 of the most fruitful years of his country’s football history. And, for that, it will be a blushing set of Les Bleus if Belgium outwit the French. Henry may have a confined role, but he is part of an admired coaching team, led by Roberto Martinez, who have been tactically dynamic in the tournament, sometimes in adversity, as when substitutions rescued a 2-0 deficit against Japan; sometimes very proactively, when some radical changes, in formation and deployment of key players, underpinned a famous victory, against Brazil in the last eight.

But here’s one thing Deschamps can be sure of: if Lukaku has a one-on-one duel with the French goalkeeper, and pauses just before the final shot, or if Eden Hazard cuts in from the left and curls his shot across Hugo Lloris, each of them will have taken expert advice on how to finesse those manoeuvres from one Thierry Henry, French legend.

Read Ian Hawkey's full analysis here.