France knocks off Belgium to reach World Cup final

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SAINT PETERSBURG, Russia – Getting to a World Cup final is supposed to be hard. For France, not so much.

A 1-0 victory over Belgium in Tuesday’s semifinal here clinched Les Bleus a spot in Sunday’s championship showdown and, in truth, it has all looked pretty easy. At no point in the tournament has the team looked in genuine danger, and never really moved into top gear, either.

Tense stalemate against your local rival? No problem. The only goal saw Samuel Umtiti send an impressive header past goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois in the 51st minute, giving France an advantage that it would never relinquish.

Stuck in the stacked side of the draw? No worries there either, with Uruguay easily discarded in the quarterfinal and before that, a 4-3 win over Argentina that sounds far more difficult than it truly was. Belgium did its part, seeing off Brazil in the quarterfinals.

France’s recipe has been rooted in consistency. Not consistently outstanding, just consistently consistent. Consistently better, just a little bit better, than all of its rivals, game after game.

That was the case here, blunting enough of Belgium’s typically rampant attack to survive and advance with the minimum of fuss. Maybe it has gotten lucky that all of its opponents have had off days when they have met. Maybe when such a thing happens so often, it has nothing to do with chance.

For all of the destructive attacking forces in its arsenal, it is the backline that has held things together. Hugo Lloris comfortably blocked a fierce second half drive from Axel Witsel, but was otherwise largely undisturbed.

Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku couldn’t get anything going up front, Kevin De Bruyne had a rare off day, bringing the team’s enjoyable and entertaining run to an unsatisfying close.

It was outplayed, by a bit. Outcoached, by a bit. Outworked, by the same margin. That is what France does, and that’s how it does it.

On Sunday, the French will try to add a second title to the World Cup it won on home soil in 1998. It is an overwhelming favorite now, whoever steps forwards as the opponent this weekend.

Rarely has a team cruised all the way to a World Cup title. France is one game away from doing so.

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