Updated on: Friday, October 08, 2021, 11:57 PM IST

Mbappe inspires; Nets one and later assist, as France edge out Belgium 3-2 to set up a date with Spain on Sunday final

Kylian Mbappé | AFp

Kylian Mbappé | AFp


Turin: France will meet Spain in the UEFA Nations League final after a sensational second-half comeback against Belgium.

At the Juventus Stadium on ate Thursday night, it was Belgium who looked destined for Sunday's showpiece based on their first-half showing.

Hugo Lloris pulled off a remarkable early save to keep out Kevin De Bruyne, but Yannick Carrasco's low shot and Romelu Lukaku's characteristically marauding run and thumping finish put Roberto Martínez's side firmly in control.

Les Bleus were a different proposition after the break, however. Though Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann both passed up chances to give their team a foothold, Karim Benzema made no such mistake when he turned nimbly inside the penalty area and finished. Kylian Mbappé's unerring penalty soon restored parity.

Lukaku thought he had won it for Belgium late on only to be ruled out for offside. Paul Pogba then struck the bar with a free-kick, yet there was time for more drama still. France launched a sweeping counterattack and the ball eventually found its way to Theo Hernández on the edge of the penalty area; he steadied himself with one touch before firing into the corner to complete a dramatic turnaround.

"To be capable of doing what we did, and you shouldn't forget the team we did it to, the top-ranked team in the world at the moment, it's fantastic what the team of France managed to do," coach Didier Deschamps said.

"I don't think there were many people who thought we could at halftime. All credit to the players. The pride and character that they showed, added to the quality, ensured we did it."

The 22-year-old Mbappé was made somewhat of a scapegoat for France's failure at the European Championship after missing the decisive penalty in the shootout in France's loss to Switzerland in the round of 16.

"I never doubted Kylian. I always showed him that I was with him, behind him," Deschamps said. "I know very well that the France team is stronger with him."

For Belgium it was another disappointing failure for a team that has entered the past few major tournaments as one of the big favourites but hasn't reached a big final since Euro 1980.

Even the official twitter account of the Belgian national team seemed confident of victory at halftime, tweeting “Well, that's a comfortable lead!” — before gently mocking itself after the final whistle.

"You need to look at the first half we did, it was full of cool heads, real understanding of what was needed, creating chances, our performance was at the level we expect,” Belgium coach Roberto Martínez said.

"Second half we became emotional, we were thinking of getting to the final as quickly as we could rather than playing our game.”

Theo Hernández and his brother Lucas Hernández were named in the starting lineup for France, in midfield and defense. It was the first time two brothers had played together for Les Bleus since Hervé and Patrick Revelli in 1974.

France did reduce the deficit four minutes later as Mbappé again danced his way past defenders before finding Benzema, who managed to squeeze in a swiveling shot despite being surrounded by red shirts.

That's the football we love,” Deschamps said. “If you're on the good side of the craziness that's great, we were on the bad side this summer."

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Published on: Friday, October 08, 2021, 11:57 PM IST