Deschamps credits France defence for semi win

Kylian Mbappe said he never imagined — “not even in my wildest dreams” — that he could help France reach the World Cup final after Les Bleus saw off Belgium 1-0 on Tuesday. Samuel Umtiti’s 51st-minute header in the semifinal sent the French into the final, where they will be seeking their second win since 1998.

Mbappe appeared dangerous throughout, creating six scoring chances for his side, who will wait the winners of Wednesday’s other semi between England and Croatia. And the 19-year-old was overwhelmed at the thought of helping France reach the final in his first appearance at a World Cup.

“It is unbelievable. It is the dream of dreams, the dream of the future, everything,” Mbappe said. “I don’t have the words. Not even in my wildest dreams, and I am a big dreamer, would I have imagined this. There is still one more step to take, but we are proud of what we have done.”

France President Emmanuel Macron was on hand for the game in St Petersburg and came down to the dressing room to celebrate with the players and staff.

“In the changing room, [coach] Didier Deschamps was happy. We were all happy, all hugging,” Mbappe said. “[France] President Emmanuel Macron came down to see us. Everyone is with us, we’re all in this together.”

Asked what Macron, who had been in the stands, said, he replied: “He said he would come back for the final, to see us with the Cup.”

Deschamps, who captained France as they won the 1998 World Cup on home soil, hailed the character of his young team and credited his players’ effort at the back.

“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.”

Deschamps also recalled France’s defeat to Portugal in the Euro 2016 final in Paris two years ago, and revealed it’s still weighing on the team.

“Two years ago, I remember what happened two years ago,” he said. “We will go into this final to win it, as we have still not gotten over the final.”

Deschamps 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,” he said.

Goal scorer 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.”

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 semifinal 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.”