Late own-goal sees France edge out Belgium

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France 1-0 Belgium

It was not pretty but France did enough to reach the quarter-finals by beating Belgium with a deflected goal late in a game that was high on effort, short on quality.

There were only five minutes remaining when Randall Kolo Muani, on as substitute for the mis-firing Marcus Thuram, turned and fired in a shot that took a deflection off Jan Vertonghen before beating Koen Casteels, the Belgian keeper who barely had to make a save in the previous 85 minutes.

France had not been short of chances in the final third, but so often their shots were off target.

As befitting a game between two teams, who were expected to win their respective groups but finished as runners-up, it was underwhelming. France have bundles of talent, but have yet to catch fire, while the Belgians are a fading force from the once Golden Generation.

Mike Maignan thwarts an effort from Romelu Lukaku.

Whereas once they were packed with world-class players such as Eden Hazard, Mousa Dembele and Vincent Kompany, now only Kevin De Bruyne remains at that level, and he cannot do it all on his own.

It was De Bruyne who first called Mike Maignan into action, his curling, dipping free-kick forcing the French keeper to scramble a clearance with his feet midway through the first half.

Moments later, Yanniock Carrasco had a shot blocked by William Saliba ten yards from goal, but other than that, Belgium did not threaten until late in the second half when the otherwise anonymous Romelu Lukaku had a fierce shot saved by Maignan, who later defied De Bruyne with a similar effort.

That was as close as Belgium got, as another tournament ended in disappointment. France were generally stronger and dictated most of the play but did not really trouble Casteels until that late goal.

Once again Antoine Griezemann was their most creative attacking player, his interplay with right back Jules Kounde producing most of France’s chances in the opening half. From one pinpoint Kounde cross Marcus Thuram thumped a header wide.

Koen Casteels is left helpless as the ball deflects off Vertonghen.

Aurelian Tchouameni was similarly wasteful, shooting high over the bar twice in the first half, the second chance coming after Kylian Mbappe had wriggled his way in from the left.

The France captain struggled to impose himself in the early stages, but got into the game more as it went on, cutting in from the left increasingly. Once he shot over the bar, another time he scuffed a golden opportunity wide, and then he set up Tchouameni to complete a hat-trick of shots over the bar.

Mbappe fired over the bar soon afterwards, as did William Saliba on a rare foray forward Maignan was called into action when Lukaku briefly came to life in the 71st minute, with a powerful drive that the French keeper did well to stop.

Ten minutes later it was De Bruyne who fired in a powerful shot for the keeper to save. But then France struck the decisive blow with only their second shot on target, and even then it took a deflection off Vertonghen to beat Casteels.

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