ON a night where it mattered more to be effective than pretty, this was a victory for substance over style. Now, France just need one more.

Two decades on from his finest achievement as a player, Didier Deschamps is just 90 minutes away from his crowning moment as a manager. You can’t say he and his players don’t deserve to be there.

There is a lot to admire about a side that just know what it takes to win and Les Bleus have proven that on their route to the World Cup final. The equilibrium between raw talent and hard work may not always be easy on the eye but there will be a satisfaction in the way that this game was won.

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Samuel Umtiti had a hand in both. One goal and a clean sheet. Job done.

Now, England or Croatia await and stand between France and their first World Cup success since that night in Paris in 1998.

If Deschamps has developed a reputation for having somewhat of a rather humdrum approach, that cannot be levelled at Roberto Martinez, the man in the opposite dugout in St Petersburg. The loss of Thomas Meunier through suspension forced Martinez to change his line-up and the thinking and tinkering saw Nacer Chadli come in at right-back of a four and Moussa Dembele added to the midfield. The fact that he was hooked before the hour mark told you everything about how that particular call worked out for Belgium.

For France, the return of Blaise Matuidi from his own enforced absence meant that Corentin Tolisso dropped out. All eyes were fixed on the respective ends of the park but it was the domination in midfield that gave France the foundations for success.

Deschamps’ side were effective rather than effervescent during their wins over Australia and Peru, and the draw with Denmark, in the group stages but the seven-goal thriller with Argentina will go down as one of the matches of the tournament.

It hinted at a side to this team that hadn’t been seen often enough and showed what is possible when Les Bleus, with all the skill and flair that comes naturally to their forwards, get into stride.

That hasn’t been an issue for Belgium and their attacking arsenal is arguably even more impressive. In Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku, Martinez has a forward line to match anything in the tournament but his big guns didn’t fire here.

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Hazard was a key protagonist early on – firing wide across goal and then jinking his way by Benjamin Pavard and unleashing a shot that Raphael Varane got the slightest of touches on as the ball rattled Hugo Lloris’ bar.

It was hard to see how the first half could end goalless at that stage. It wasn’t quite end-to-end, but there were moments to bring the respective sets of supporters to their feet.

The poise and precision of Antoine Griezmann and de Bruyne contrasted to the pace and power of Kylian Mbappe and Lukaku, a surprisingly marginal figure throughout. It was through unlikely sources that both teams came closest, however, Matuidi stinging the hands of Thibault Courtois from distance before Pavard couldn’t quite lift his effort over the large, sprawling figure of the Chelsea keeper after a neat reverse pass from Mbappe.

It was a smart stop from Courtois but nothing compared to the one from Lloris a few minutes earlier. Toby Alderweireld wouldn’t have been marked out as much of a potential goal threat beforehand but it was the defender that forced his Tottenham team-mate to make the best save of the first half. The swivel and strike in one movement could have caught Lloris unawares but the dive to his right was timed perfectly as he got a strong hand to a sweetly struck effort.

There were moments of quality amid the tension but both sides, and the game, needed a spark. It needed a goal.

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When it arrived six minutes into the second half, it came from an unlikely source. The corner from Griezmann was pinpoint but it was the strength of Umtiti that beat Marouane Fellaini before he glanced a terrific header beyond Courtois. France had their goal.

Belgium were now staring at a nightmare scenario. Time was on their side but the odds were not as they began to press and probe more regularly at the French defence.

What transpired was a masterclass in seeing the game out. As Mbappe proved why he will one day be regarded as the best in the world with a sterling performance, he summed up the work ethic within the French side as he and Griezmann dropped deeper to shore up the midfield.

At the back, France were disciplined and organised. For all Belgium’s passing and intricate play in spells, there was no cutting edge in the areas of the pitch that really mattered.

Fellaini headed wide from one of the few opening Martinez’s carved out as they became increasingly desperate and dispirited. Deep down, they knew they would come so close, but be so far away.

France were cool and comfortable and then they were victorious. It was no more than Deschamps deserved.