Samuel Umtiti was the unlikely hero as France reached the World Cup final for the third time in 20 years courtesy of a 1-0 win over Belgium in St Petersburg on Tuesday.
Defender Umtiti headed home a corner from Antoine Griezmann in the 51st minute to settle the all-European tie, booking Les Bleus a trip to Moscow and a clash against either Croatia or England.
Goalkeepers Hugo Lloris and Thibaut Courtois both made smart saves to make sure an intriguing game remained scoreless at the interval.
However, Umtiti popped up with the game’s telling moment early in the second half, nodding the ball home to score his third international goal.
Belgium pushed hard for an equaliser but Roberto Martinez watched on as his team suffered their first defeat in 25 outings, ending their hopes of winning the tournament for the first time in history as their so-called golden generation came up short.
Beaten finalists at Euro 2016 on home soil, France will aim to go one better in Russia and emulate the successful squad of 1998 which included Didier Deschamps, who could emulate Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer by winning the World Cup as both a player and manager.
With Thomas Meunier suspended, Belgium shifted to a back four as Martinez selected Nacer Chadli on the right.
Still, the change in shape did not appear to bother the tournament’s top-scorers in an absorbing first half, both teams threatening a breakthrough as they refused to be overawed by the occasion.
Eden Hazard twice went close, narrowly missing the target with a low, left-footed drive before seeing a curler with his right deflected over by the head of centre-back Raphael Varane.
Lloris’ full-length dive kept out a first-time strike from Tottenham colleague Toby Alderweireld, while Courtois reacted quickly to block Benjamin Pavard’s attempt from a tight angle at the other end.
While the full-back at least hit the target, Olivier Giroud failed to test Courtois when presented with a clear sight of goal by Kylian Mbappe’s volleyed cross, poking his attempt well wide under pressure.
MATCH STATS AND PLAYER RATINGS
Lloris 7; Pavard 7, Varane 7.5, Umtiti 7.5, Hernandez 6.5; Kante 7, Pogba 7.5; Mbappe 8.5, Griezmann 7.5, Matuidi 7 (Tolisso 86mins 6); Giroud 7 (Nzonzi 84mins 6)
Goals: Umtiti 51
Booked: Kante, Mbappe
Manager: Didier Deschamps 8
Courtois 7; Chadli 6.5 (Batshuayi 90mins 6), Alderweireld 6.5, Kompany 7, Vertonghen 6.5; Witsel 7, Dembele 5 (Mertens 59mins 7); De Bruyne 7, Fellaini 6.5, (Carasco 79mins 6) Hazard 7; Lukaku 6.5
Booked: Hazard, Alderweireld, Vertonghen
Manager: Roberto Martinez 6
Referee: Andres Cunha (Uruguay) 7
Man of the Match: Kylian Mbappe.