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Mbappé sends France into Nations League final

Published:Friday | October 8, 2021 | 12:11 AM
Belgium’s Toby Alderweireld (left) challenges France’s Kylian Mbappe during the UEFA Nations League semi-final match at the Juventus stadium in Turin, Italy, yesterday. France won 3-2.
Belgium’s Toby Alderweireld (left) challenges France’s Kylian Mbappe during the UEFA Nations League semi-final match at the Juventus stadium in Turin, Italy, yesterday. France won 3-2.

TURIN, Italy (AP):

Kylian Mbappé redeemed himself with a goal and an assist as France came from two goals down to beat Belgium 3-2 yesterday and reach the Nations League final.

Theo Hernández scored the last-minute winner to complete the comeback and send world champions France through to Sunday’s final against Spain.

Two quick-fire goals at the end of the first half had given Belgium a seemingly comfortable lead, but Mbappé, who became the youngest player to reach 50 caps for Les Bleus, set up Karim Benzema’s goal in the 62nd minute and converted a penalty seven minutes later.

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 shoot-out in France’s loss to Switzerland in the round of 16.

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

Spain beat Italy 2-1 in the other semi-final on Wednesday.

PENALTY AREA

Belgium were looking to avenge their semi-final defeat to France at the 2018 World Cup and they almost got off to the perfect start as Jules Koundé’s woeful clearance from Romelu Lukaku’s cross fell straight to Kevin De Bruyne, who was in a great position in the middle of the penalty area. But his shot was palmed around the post by France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.

France had a good chance at the other end soon after, but Benjamin Pavard sent his effort straight into the arms of Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, following good work from Mbappé.

After that high-tempo start, the match calmed down, with Belgium restricted to shots from distance.

But Belgium took control shortly before half-time. Yannick Carrasco broke the deadlock in the 37th minute when he cut inside from the left, turned a defender and drilled into the near bottom corner.

De Bruyne provided the assist for that goal, spotting Carrasco’s run, and he did the same four minutes later as he threaded a through-ball to Lukaku, who collected with his back to goal before turning, racing clear of Lucas Hernández and firing into the roof of the net.

“Well, that’s a comfortable lead!” the Belgium team’s official Twitter account wrote at half-time.

PRESSURE

That proved premature as France upped the pressure at the start of the second half and nearly pulled a goal back in the 58th minute, when Mbappé cut in from the right and rolled the ball across to Antoine Griezmann, who fired just wide of the post.

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 swivelling shot despite being surrounded by red shirts.

And Deschamps’ side was level shortly afterwards when Mbappé drove a penalty kick into the top right corner after Youri Tielemans was adjudged – with the help of video review – to have fouled Griezmann.

Belgium almost immediately restored their advantage, but Lloris managed to push De Bruyne’s attempt over the bar.

Lukaku thought he had scored a late winner, but it was ruled out for offside. Instead, it was France which snatched victory as Theo Hernández curled into the far side of the net following a good team move.

Paul Pogba had sent a free kick off the crossbar moments earlier for Les Bleus.