Belgium 2-3 France
Theo Hernandez’s 90th-minute strike completed an incredible comeback victory for France, who battled from 2-0 down against Belgium to win 3-2 and reach the Nations League Final in stunning fashion.
A quickfire double from Yannick Carrasco and Romelu Lukaku towards the end of the first half had put Belgium into a commanding lead, but France were transformed in the second period.
First Karim Benzema swivelled and shot to give them hope. Then Kylian Mbappe went some way to atoning for his decisive Euro 2020 shoot-out miss against Switzerland by thumping in the leveller from the spot, after Youri Tielemans’ clumsy foul on Antoine Griezmann was eventually punished by referee Daniel Siebert, following a VAR and pitchside monitor check.
In another twist, Lukaku thought he had put his side back in front and into the final when he tucked in Carrasco’s cross with three minutes to play, but VAR spotted he was just offside in the build-up – and Hernandez broke Belgian hearts moments later, rifling in to set up Sunday’s showdown with Spain for the Nations League silverware.
For Belgium and their ‘Golden Generation’ another shot at a title slipped away and – just as after their 2018 World Cup semi-final defeat to France – they must pick themselves up for a third-place play-off, this time against Italy on Sunday.
After underwhelming Euro 2020 campaigns, both sides looked fired up to end the year with a trophy during an electric opening, with De Bruyne seeing his blast from just seven yards out somehow stopped by Hugo Lloris on three minutes, before Benjamin Pavard flicked an effort on target at the other end.
Tielemans and De Bruyne fired over before a slick move from France involving Benzema, Pavard and Griezmann led to Mbappe scuffing a shot through to Thibaut Courtois.
With both sides setting up in a 3-4-3 and quick to get bodies back behind the ball, the clear chances began to dry up, but that all changed eight minutes before the break when De Bruyne sprayed it out to Carrasco, Pavard backed off and backed off, and the Atletico Madrid man caught out the wrong-footed Lloris to put Belgium ahead.
De Bruyne was involved again four minutes later for Belgium’s second, feeding Lukaku in the right channel before the striker crashed in his 10th goal in his last eight Nations League games to put his side in complete control. Or so it seemed.
Paul Pogba sent a shot and a header off target at the start of the second half as France searched for a response, and they should have had one on 58 minutes when some brilliance out wide from Mbappe took him past Carrasco only for Griezmann to fluff his finish from the edge of the six-yard box.
The 2018 World Cup winners were a different side now, though, and they gave themselves hope when Benzema controlled Mbappe’s pass in the box before making room for himself and hooking the ball into the corner.
Seven minutes later, France were level. Tielemans kicked Griezmann’s foot and then caught the Frenchman again as he was going away from goal in the box, and while the initial response on the pitch was from Belgium players telling Griezmann to get up, VAR took a different view.
It was a clear foul and Mbappe – whose shock miss against the Swiss in the summer sent France packing at Euro 2020 – fired his country level.
The momentum was with Didier Deschamps’ side, but they were briefly stunned themselves on 87 minutes when a break down the left led to Carrasco crossing for Lukaku to convert brilliantly. A VAR offside spot killed the celebrations.
Instead, it was France who claimed a late winner. Pavard’s pass across the box found Theo Hernandez in space, and the wing-back – who had started an international alongside his brother Lucas for the first time – gave Courtois no chance as he sent his country into the final.
The third-place play-off (kick-off 2pm) and final (kick-off 7.45pm) are on Sunday.