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Inside France's World Cup ceremony


Centre-backs Raphael Varane, Samuel Umtiti star as France reach the final

France are into their third World Cup final in the past six editions after a 1-0 win over Belgium in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Tuesday.

Samuel Umtiti's early second-half header proved decisive, and a superb defensive display enabled Didier Deschamps' men to keep star-studded Belgium at bay.


Les Bleus have done it -- despite moments of doubt in Russia, notably the group stage, the French have navigated their way to the final in Moscow! Incredibly, it feels like they can still improve too.

There were many heroes on the Krestovsky Stadium pitch, but central defender Raphael Varane's 2006 Fabio Cannavaro-esque performance was particularly deserving of recognition.

Without two excellent Hugo Lloris saves, particularly one in the first half, the final score may well have been significantly different.


Focusing on negatives after a phenomenal collective effort like that would be disrespectful -- Les Bleus deserve their place in the final, and all of the players selected by Deschamps to take to the field gave everything for the shirt.

Manager rating out of 10

9 -- It was not pretty, at times, but Deschamps went with his tried and tested starting XI of players that he trusts, and he was richly rewarded with a committed and united display from the men he put his faith in.

The French took their chance, when it came, remained remarkably solid, and the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship-winning former captain kept calm and waited as long as he could before utilising his substitutes to kill the match off.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Hugo Lloris (c), 9 -- Superb. If it was not for the captain's excellent saves to deny both Toby Alderweireld in the first half and Axel Witsel in the second, France would arguably not have made it to the final.

DF Benjamin Pavard, 7 -- What he was unable to bring defensively because of the might of Belgium's attack, notably Eden Hazard, he made up for when going forward himself. Had Thibaut Courtois not made such a fantastic first-half save to deny him, he might have got himself his second goal of the tournament.

DF Raphael Varane, 9 -- Monstrous. An absolute rock at the heart of the French defence, he paired brilliantly with match-winner Umtiti and made some heroic and crucial interventions to save his side in a showing that reminded all of his ability.

DF Samuel Umtiti, 8 -- The scorer of the only goal of the game, his excellent header decided the contest. Otherwise, he was commanding, but that is as much down to being alongside Varane as it was his own actions.

DF Lucas Hernandez, 6 -- Arguably Les Bleus' weakest defensive performer on the night, it was still a committed effort and one that saw him involve himself physically.

Samuel Umtiti scored the goal but Raphael Varane was France's best player vs. Belgium.
Raphael Varane was immense as France shut down Belgium's high-powered attack time and time again.

MF N'Golo Kante, 7 -- Aside from a late booking, it was business as usual. France's most consistent performer in Russia was in his element once again and contributed with some important interventions and recoveries.

MF Paul Pogba, 7 -- After a strong start, notably a brilliant early pass to Kylian Mbappe, he had his moments and got involved defensively as the match wore on in a selfless display that underlined his growing maturity at the international level.

MF Antoine Griezmann, 7 -- Quietly growing into this World Cup, he stepped it up a notch again and delivered when it was needed by teeing up Umtiti. Like most of his attacking teammates, he also contributed significantly toward a collective defensive effort as the game wore on. Had Courtois not been in such good form in the Belgian goal, the Atletico Madrid man might have scored himself.

FW Kylian Mbappe, 7 -- A silly late booking for time wasting took a little bit of the shine off of his night, but not too much. Football's leading wonderkid wowed the world at times, notably with a sublime bit of skill to create a second-half chance, and he will now get his opportunity to win the World Cup for his country before the age of 20.

FW Blaise Matuidi, 8 -- Indomitable. Nobody personified the warrior-like attitude Deschamps asked his players to show more than Matuidi did. It was a minor miracle that he was able to walk off the pitch to be replaced by Corentin Tolisso toward the end after a bruising second half that could have easily seen him concussed.

FW Olivier Giroud, 6 -- Another outing without a goal, but his work rate was exceptional once again. If he does manage to finally break his duck in the Moscow final, it will be no less than deserved after a series of full-blooded showings like this one.


MF Steven Nzonzi, N/R -- Sent on for Giroud five minutes from time, he was key to Deschamps' plan to shut the match down ahead of a significant period of time added on.

MF Corentin Tolisso, N/R -- Given four minutes at the end of the 90, plus stoppages, he still nearly made the game safe with a second goal.

Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.


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