Dhaka, Bangladesh
France one win away from laurel

WC final July 15

France one win away from laurel

SAINT PETERSBURG, Jul 11: France reached their third World Cup final after overcoming Belgium on Tuesday, sparking scenes of unconfined joy in Paris as tens of thousands of people poured into the streets, report agencies. In scenes reminiscent of France's 1998 World Cup win, delirious crowds surged up the Champs-Elysees avenue and surrounded the Arc de Triomphe, waving flags and letting off flares. A header from Samuel Umtiti in Saint Petersburg was enough to give Didier Deschamps' team a 1-0 win against Belgium. The 49-year-old coach is now just one win away from winning the World Cup - 20 years after he captained the team to victory on home soil. The tournament favourites must wait 24 hours to discover whether they will play England or Croatia in Sunday's final in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium but they will approach the game brim full of confidence. Belgium started the stronger of the two teams but Umtiti's header from a corner in the 51st minute was the pivotal moment as the defender stole the limelight from jet-heeled Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann. France's other hero was goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who made a spectacular fingertip save in the first half to deny Toby Alderweireld and then kept out Alex Witsel's drive as Belgium cranked up the pressure towards the end of the match. Deschamps said he was delighted to have the chance to bury the pain of the Euro 2016 final, which Portugal won in Paris. France started the tournament in Russia slowly, struggling for goals in the group stages but hit their stride in an impressive 4-3 victory against Lionel Messi's Argentina in the first knockout round. Boasting an impressive combination of experience and youthful zest, they controlled their quarter-final against Uruguay, running out comfortable 2-0 winners. The defeat is painful for Belgium, foiled at the semi-final for the second time in their history, as the clock ticks on their so-called "golden generation". Meanwhile, Belgium's golden generation has come up short at a major tournament again. With Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard in fantastic form creating chances for themselves and Romelu Lukaku up front, Vincent Kompany fit again at the heart of the defense and Thibaut Courtois standing tall in goal, these Red Devils racked up more goals than any other team in the World Cup. Through five matches, it looked as if they could finally deliver on their promise. But with their King Philippe watching from the stands, there was to be no coronation. After reaching the World Cup semifinals for the first time since 1986, Roberto Martinez's talent-packed team lost 1-0 to France on Tuesday at St. Petersburg Stadium on a Samuel Umtiti second-half header from a corner kick. "Damn set piece, that's all I can say," Kompany said. A Belgium team featuring many of the same stars lost 1-0 to Argentina in the World Cup quarterfinal four years ago and then was shocked 3-1 by Wales in the European Championship quarterfinals two years ago. Even through the first 30 minutes in St. Petersburg, this side had looked different, carving out chances and containing France's counterattacks. "We had more chances today, we had more control of the match," Kompany said. "We weren't in control two years ago against Argentina." But the potent Belgian attack gradually faded as France's rock-solid defense handed Belgium its first shutout of the tournament. Instead of playing Sunday in Moscow for its first World Cup, Belgium will be back in St. Petersburg on Saturday, playing in the third-place match and wondering if its championship window has closed. Belgium's beaten players did not want to talk about the end of an era - not with stars like 27-year-old De Bruyne, 26-year-old Courtois and 25-year-old Lukaku in the team and more coming through the youth ranks. AFP from Zagreb reports: Excitement was building in Croatia on Wednesday ahead of the World Cup semi-final against England, with tens of thousands of fans expected to watch the match on public screens across the country. The side led by Luka Modric, have been feted as national heroes for their run to the last four in Russia, matching the feat of their predecessors in 1998. Popular song "Play my Croatia" is being played on radio stations and waiters, shop workers, TV presenters and nurses are dressed in red-and-white jerseys. Some stores will close early to enable employees to watch the match, which starts at 1800 GMT, with various concerts, plays and cinema shows cancelled. Six charter flights carrying more than 1,000 fans left the capital Zagreb for Moscow late Tuesday and Wednesday, national flag carrier Croatia Airlines said. About 10,000 Croatia fans are expected among 80,000 people in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, including Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic. "This is really a big day for Croatian sport and footbal, it is a success that we will remember for generations. We hope for a victory," Plenkovic, dressed in a football jersey, told reporters before leaving for Moscow. The largest fan zone is in Zagreb's main square, where thousands are expected to watch the game on a giant screen. "Once in a lifetime - Modric's 'Fiery Ones' fight for World Cup final!" read the Sportske Novosti daily front page. The influential Jutarnji List paper called for a "football Brexit". For the past few weeks Croatia has been living and breathing football. Squares have been packed with red-and-white painted fans, stalls selling football jerseys and flares, and drivers blaring their horns in scenes reminiscent of 1998. "We all temporarily forgot our problems, no one thinks about anything else," Robert Halilovic, owner of cafe "Cup 98", named after the 1998 tournament in France. The World Cup final will take place at Moscow's Luzhniki stadium on July 15. The match for the third place will be held on July 14 in St. Petersburg. So far, England's only semifinal took place in 1966, during the domestic tournament. On July 30, 1966 the team defeated West Germany 4:2 at London's Wembley Stadium in London. Croatia's highest-ever World Cup achievement is third place at the 1998 World Cup in France. In their quarterfinal matches on Saturday night, England defeated Sweden 2:0 and Croatia knocked out Russia with the 4-3 penalty shootout win following 2-2 draw in the regular and 30-minute overtime period.Between the games, Team Croatia trained at a field of the Luzhniki Olympic Complex, while England trained in St. Petersburg. Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic believes that the present-day team is at least not weaker than it used to be in the 1998. "The Croatian team has very good players. I believe that the generation of our players was underestimated for too long, but they were able to demonstrate their best qualities during this World Cup. They will remain in the football history as the generation of strong players," Dalic said. Vukojevic turns down Ukrainian help, will pay FIFA fine himself On Monday, the world's governing football body, FIFA, imposed a fine of 15,000 Swiss francs on Croatian team's coaching staff assistant Ognjen Vukojevic for his conduct after the victory over Russia.

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