ST PETERSBURG (Reuters) - France coach Didier Deschamps hailed the character of his young team after they beat Belgium 1-0 on Tuesday to set up a World Cup final against either England or Croatia in Moscow.
Samuel Umtiti’s 51st-minute header at St Petersburg Stadium sent the French into the final, where they will be seeking their second win since 1998 - when Deschamps captained them on home soil.
“It was exceptional,” Deschamps said in a pitchside interview.
“I’m very happy for my players, we showed character and the right mentality, it was very hard for us tonight. We worked hard defensively.
“We had to take advantage a bit more in the counter attacks. but congratulations to my players and my staff. I feel very proud for my group,” said Deschamps, who is aiming to join Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer and Brazil’s Mario Zagallo as the only men to have won the World Cup as both a player and a manager.
“Forty-nine days together, it is a lot of things, difficult things, the group stage, it is the merit of everyone.”
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez was also proud of his players despite the defeat.
“Unfortunately for us the difference was a dead-ball situation. The game was very close, very tight and it was going to be decided by a little bit of luck in front of goal,” said the Spaniard.
“I thought the attitude of the players was magnificent and I couldn’t ask for any more. The players gave everything and were pushing until the last second to get back in the game.
“That’s the detail you get in the semi-final of the World Cup.
“We’re disappointed, we wanted to get into the final, we need to put this behind us and look forward to the next game. We need to go out on a real high, these players deserve that.”
Goalscorer Umtiti said the win had come on the back of the work of the entire team.
“A lot of pride,” said the defender. “We worked hard ... I scored but we delivered a good match and I’m very proud of everyone. They worked in ‘98 and we worked today, we reached out target to get to the final, I’m very satisfied.”
Writing by Nick Mulvenney in Moscow, editing by Hugh Lawson