The decisive moment came early in the second half when Samuel Umtiti rose immaculately to nod in Antoine Griezmann’s in swinging corner.
It seemed to take the sting out of Belgium, who began brilliantly but were unable to capitalise on their early dominance. After the goal France managed to keep them at arm’s length as they held on comfortably.
Here we rate the France players:
Hugo Lloris – 7:
Stunning save to deny Alderweireld calmed him down after a shaky start. Kept Belgium at bay but handling was unnerving.
Benjamin Pavard – 4:
Roasted regularly by a rampant Hazard as he looked out of his depth. Brought a fine stop out of Courtois.
Raphael Varane – 7:
Vital touch to deflect Hazard’s blistering drive over. Dealt well with Belgium’s aerial bombardment.
Samuel Umtiti – 8:
Had been quiet until meeting Griezmann’s corner with a bullet header. Alongside Varane, kept Lukaku shackled.
Lucas Hernandez – 6:
A constant outlet down France’s left. A quiet and confident display belied his 22 years.
N’Golo Kante – 7:
A few poor touches, but boundless energy fueled France, especially as they struggled to get to grips with Belgium early on.
Paul Pogba – 7:
Precision through ball early on almost sent Mbappe clear. Otherwise his defensive traits came to the fore. Four tackles was second only to Matuidi.
Kylian Mbappe – 8:
Scintillating skill and blistering pace was a massive problem all night. Back-heel to Giroud was otherworldly. Six key passes.
Antoine Griezmann – 8:
Struggled initially to exert his influence, but typified France’s eventual emergence as he pulled the strings for Les Bleus.
Blaise Matuidi – 7:
Found himself in a more alien forward role. Venemous early rocket stung Courtois’ palms. Energy and engine was excellent.
Olivier Giroud – 5:
Didn’t appear on the same wavelength as his fellow attackers. Heavily involved but couldn’t quite get his brain and feet in sync.
Steven N’Zonzi N/A
Came on to replace the tireless Matuidi and shore up France’s advantage.
Corentin Tolisso N/A
Brought on late to stretch Belgium. Denied a clinching goal by Courtois’s plunging left hand.
Gareth Southgate has come to the rescue of forward Raheem Sterling, who was criticised in the build-up to the World Cup, in Russia and admitted that the Manchester City star is a “fundamental” part of the England set-up.
Sterling has started four of England’s five games in the tournament so far, and while he has looked threatening on occasions, he has been unable to end his international goal drought that dates back to October 2015.
The 23-year-old doesn’t have a good goal record – managing to score just twice in 42 appearances for England – that too against modest sides Lithuania and Estonia, while his goalscoring record under Pep Guardiola last season was a career-best of 23 goals in 46 appearances, in what was City’s Premier League title-winning campaign.
And while Sterling was a major threat to Sweden’s defence in the quarter-finals and caused trouble time and again, finding pockets of space throughout, he missed a one on one chance when it came his way. But Southgate believes the forward has been contributing immensely in the cause of the team.
“I think Raheem has been fundamental to the way we have played – his movement, the positions he takes up, his pressing of the ball, his work rate for the team, the winning of free-kicks, the winning of corners, his speed to stretch teams,” Southgate told the ITV World Cup podcast.
“He was a constant threat to Sweden. Of course he hasn’t scored the goals he would have liked to score but for myself and the players he has been a crucial part of the way we have been playing.”
Sterling was widely criticised ahead of the World Cup for having a tattoo of a gun on his leg. A few pundits even went to the extent of saying he should be dropped from the squad.
And while he did respond to the noise surrounding his tattoo, explaining that it was a tribute to his father, who was shot dead in his birthplace of Jamaica when Sterling was just two-years-old – the way he has learned keeping criticism aside and focusing on the task at hand, is commendable, feels team mate Eric Dier.
“The way Raheem’s handled everything from when we met up until now has been incredible,” said Dier.
“It’s so clear to see if you were to watch back until now the importance he has on the team. He’s had a fantastic tournament so far and hopefully he can continue to have one in the next week.”
Now, as England get ready to enter a tough contest in the World Cup semi-final on Wednesday, Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic is of the view that Sterling will have an impact on the game and could be the difference-maker.
“I think Raheem Sterling is an important player because he is fast and dangerous alongside Harry Kane,” said Dalic ahead of Wednesday’s clash in Moscow.
The World Cup‘s second semi-final takes place as England face Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
Here, we highlight some things to look out for at Russia 2018 on Wednesday.
Can England cope with the occasion?
England seemed to do a very decent job of handling the pressure on them as they beat Sweden 2-0 in the quarter-finals, and fans will hope that was a good sign for an even more seismic fixture.
This is the Three Lions’ first World Cup semi-final in 28 years, offering the opportunity of a first appearance in the final since the glory of 1966.
While the way Gareth Southgate‘s men respond to the situation remains to be seen, the growing excitement among the supporters has been clear.
Will Kane be a record-breaker?
Although Harry Kane did not score in the Sweden match on Saturday, the quarter-finals concluded with him at the top of the Golden Boot standings, and the England captain will be looking to take another step towards that prize against Croatia.
Also, should he add to what is currently a six-goal haul, he will break a record – he is currently level with Gary Lineker (Mexico 1986) in terms of most goals netted at a single World Cup by an England player.
More heroics from Pickford?
A number of England players have really shone in Russia and goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is another among them.
The 24-year-old followed up his superb saves in the last-16 tie against Colombia with a number of fine stops on Saturday and it may well be further heroics from him, as much as from Kane, that sees England through.
Modric the main danger man?
Potentially the biggest individual threat England are set to encounter in the match is Croatia’s captain Luka Modric.
The Real Madrid man is widely regarded as one of the best midfielders in the world and gave a particularly eye-catching demonstration of what he can do with his fine strike in the 3-0 group-stage win over Argentina.
Modric’s team-mates Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic can also cause considerable problems.
Memories may well be cast back to England’s defeat on penalties in the last four of the 1990 tournament if this game goes to a shootout, but fans might not feel quite the same sense of dread this time that they have in the past, with the team’s first-ever World Cup win on spot-kicks having been secured against Colombia.
It should be noted, though, that Croatia have won in each of the last two rounds via penalties, and that while England have Pickford, who made such a superb stop to keep out Carlos Bacca’s effort from 12 yards, their opponents have, in Danijel Subasic, a goalkeeper who has pulled off four shootout saves so far in Russia.