Belgium 2-3 France: Nations League semi-final – as it happened

Last modified: 09: 04 PM GMT+0

Theo Hernández scored in the last minute as France completed a remarkable comeback to beat Belgium and reach the Nations League final

Read Paul Doyle's match report

Right then, I’m off. It’s been a rollercoaster. Thanks for joining me, bye!

After completing an extraordinary comeback to steal victory in this remarkable, thrilling and dramatic match, France’s players look ... well .. not very excited.

« QUEL MATCH ! » 🔥

🇧🇪2-3🇫🇷 #FiersdetreBleus

— Equipe de France ⭐⭐ (@equipedefrance) October 7, 2021

“This match has done nothing for Belgium’s desire to be taken seriously as a ‘great’ side,” writes Pete Mumola. “Only silverware will validate this golden generation, who seem to come up this short on every big occasion.” They deserved to lose tonight. When France threw themselves into the game, Belgium were just steamrollered, and the quality the French have with Mbappé and Benzema in attack is borderline offensive.


The big issue for Belgium in that second half was that with France pressing high and fast, they just didn’t know how to get the ball out of defence. They lost the ball repeatedly, and a sense of panic descended that would never quite lift.

Turnaround of the night belongs to Benjamin Pavard, who would have been blamed for France’s defeat had Belgium’s late goal stood, having failed to cover Carrasco’s run down the French right. Two minutes later it was him sprinting down the flank to send in the cross from which they won it. I’d love to know how much distance he covered tonight, but I’m thinking it was lots, even without covering that Carrasco run.

That was just great. I have been entertained.

Joy for Paul Pogba after the winning goal.
Joy for Paul Pogba after the winning goal. Photograph: CPS Images/Getty Images


Final score: Belgium 2-3 France

90+8 mins: It’s all over! France are in the final, and Belgium fall short again!

90+7 mins: They’re still playing. Jordan Veretout replaces Benzema.

90+5 mins: Vertonghen’s touch is bad and Kounde steams in to take the ball, but the Belgian gets there first, both players run into each other and they both end up on the ground.

90+4 mins: Tweet of the day.

Well, that’s a comfortable lead!

— Belgian Red Devils (@BelRedDevils) October 7, 2021

90+3 mins: Pogba passes to Mbappé on the left, and to his credit instead of timewasting he tries to cut into the penalty area, but then he runs out of the penalty area again. Goal kick.

90+2 mins: Belgium bring Batshuayi on for Castagne. Four minutes of stoppage time have been signalled, but surely they’ll add a couple more.

90+1 mins: Pavard sprints down the right once again. His cross is deflected away from Benzema by Alderweireld but it rolls instead to Theo Hernández, whose left-footed drive flies across Courtois and in at the far post!

Theo Hernandez leaps on Karim Benzema after scoring the decisive goal.
Theo Hernandez leaps on Karim Benzema after scoring the decisive goal. Photograph: Massimo Pinca/Reuters


GOAL! Belgium 2-3 France (Theo Hernández, 90 mins)

Theo Hernández fires Les Bleus back into the lead.
Theo Hernández fires Les Bleus back into the lead. Photograph: Massimo Pinca/Reuters

France have only gone and won the thing! What a game this has been, and what a conclusion!


90 mins: Pogba hits the bar! From 30 yards, Pogba’s shot curls and dips and lands on the corner of post and bar.

89 mins: And now France have a free kick and are lining up a shot. Pogba and Griezmann stand over it ...

Disallowed! It's still 2-2!

88 mins: But Lukaku was a couple of feet offside when the ball came in, so it’s chalked off!

(NO) GOAL! Belgium 3-2 France (Lukaku, 87 mins)

Belgium (don’t) snaffle a goal on the break! Carrasco escapes on the left and sends a lovely low cross to Lukaku, who finishes!


86 mins: Mbappé passes to Benzema, gets it back again and then shoots a couple of feet wide of goal with Courtois rooted.

83 mins: Pavard is pretty much everywhere at the moment. Mbappé runs down the right before passing just behind the onrushing wing-back, who then has to turn around and offrush again.

82 mins: “Is there a more unlikeable group of players at international level than this France team?” wonders Rico. I think I’m a fairly bitter and grouchy individual, but I don’t have much of a grudge against any of them.

80 mins: Belgium try to play out from the goal kick, but France are on them instantly, and force a corner.

80 mins: Griezmann shoots high on the turn from the edge of the area.

79 mins: Benzema is having an exceptional second half. The man so rarely wastes possession.

77 mins: Save! Benzema’s excellent pass finds Pavard on the right, whose cross on the stretch is blocked by Carrasco but who springs back to his feet and pulls back to, I think, Griezmann, whose attempted sidefoot into the far corner of the net is blocked, and Tchouameni runs onto the rebound and hammers a shot at Courtois.

75 mins: France make their first substitution, bringing Aurelien Tchouameni on for Rabiot.

74 mins: ... and the move ends with De Bruyne blazing a shot at vicious pace over the bar, via the keeper’s fingertips. Belgium bring Leandro Trossard on for Hazard before the corner is taken.

73 mins: Lukaku has just executed the most beautiful backheel flick to Hazard, of subtle and impeccable pacing to take out two defenders.

71 mins: Belgium are completely committed to passing the ball out of defence, but in this half they have repeatedly lost the ball in doing so. This time, however, Witsel spins away from trouble.

70 mins: That is a superlative penalty from Mbappé, unstoppable. Tielemans has been taken off, and Hans Vanaken has replaced him.

Joy for Kylian Mbappe after he fires home the equaliser.
Joy for Kylian Mbappe after he fires home the equaliser. Photograph: Bagu Blanco/REX/Shutterstock


GOAL! Belgium 2-2 France (Mbappé penalty, 69 mins)

Mbappé finds the top corner, and it’s all square!

Kylian Mbappe levels from the penalty spot.
Kylian Mbappe levels from the penalty spot. Photograph: Massimo Pinca/Reuters


Penalty to France!

69 mins: The referee turns from the screen, and points to the spot!

68 mins: Tielemans does kick Griezmann in the foot. Griezmann then massively overreacts, but he was fouled.

68 mins: The referee, Daniel Siebert, has been advised to have a look at this challenge on the pitch-side monitor.

67 mins: Vertonghen gets booked for moaning, while the VAR check continues.

67 mins: Griezmann goes down in the penalty area. Did Tielemans catch him? VAR is going to have a look.

66 mins: Pogba finds Benzema sprinting towards goal, but Courtois comes out to claim. Then Mbappe ignores the well-placed Benzema in favour of a stepover and shot, but it’s blocked.

64 mins: France keep pushing, now with an equaliser in mind. Benzema passes to Griezmann, but his first touch sends the ball straight up rather than forward, and from there the chance disappears.

GOAL! Belgium 2-1 France (Benzema, 62 mins)

France are back in it! Mbappé is the provider, tricking past Tielemans, passing inside to Benzema, and he touches away from Witsel, spins and shoots across goal and in!

Karim Benzema gets one back for France.
Karim Benzema gets one back for France. Photograph: Massimo Pinca/Reuters


61 mins: Another France attack, but this ends with an overhit Rabiot cross and an incorrect offside flag.

58 mins: France convert their territorial dominance into a massive chance! A drop of the shoulder and Mbappe is away on the right, he streaks to the byline and pulls back to Griezmann, who somehow diverts it wide!

Antoine Griezmann pokes the ball past the wrong side of the post.
Antoine Griezmann pokes the ball past the wrong side of the post. Photograph: Massimo Rana/Reuters


57 mins: The last 15 minutes have been much like the period that led to Belgium’s first goal, of one team enjoying massive territorial dominance but not converting it into chances.

54 mins: The only obvious tactical change this half is that France’s wing-backs are being pushed further forward, pretty much joining the forward line whenever they have the ball.

Youri Tielemans feels a challenge from Paul Pogba.
Youri Tielemans feels a challenge from Paul Pogba. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images


52 mins: Another France attack, but this ends with Pogba getting nobbled by Witsel in the process of shooting, and his shot then becomes a pass to Griezmann, who is offside. VAR checks to see if Witsel should get sent off, but decides against it.

51 mins: Castagne’s cross from the right deflects to Lukaku, whose volley is straight at Lloris.

50 mins: Closer! France win a free kick, which Griezmann lifts into the area where Pogba beats Alderweireld but heads over.

48 mins: De Bruyne’s flick in midfield goes nowhere near any teammate, Pogba seizes upon it and hammers a shot over the bar.

46 mins: Peeeeeep! France get the ball re-rolling.

The players are on their way back out. Can France turn this around? We’re about to find out!

There was indeed a deflection on Carrasco’s shot, and I think Lloris would otherwise had saved it comfortably. There’s no quibbling with Lukaku’s goal, though: Hernandez comes close to the striker to challenge him as he holds the ball up, only to then be completely exposed when he spins onto it instead. And the finish ... well, some people think Lloris should have stopped it. I’m not one of them.

You honestly think this is NOT a GK error mate. You cannot get beaten from there…….

— Don Hutchison (@donhutch4) October 7, 2021

Half time: Belgium 2-0 France

45+2 mins: We have now had half of the time! And Belgium have had all of the goals.

45+1 mins: There will be one minute of first-half stoppage time.

45 mins: Hazard exchanges passes with Lukaku before shooting low too close to Lloris.

43 mins: I wonder whether Carrasco’s shot deflected off Kounde on its way into the net. It would certainly explain why Lloris was so emphatically wrong-footed.

41 mins: De Bruyne passes to Lukaku, who spins onto it, leaving Lucas Hernandez in his wake, runs into the right side of the area and, with nobody to his left to cross to, he thumps it into the roof of the net from an acute angle! Lloris is beaten at his near post again, but that was a thunderbolt of a shot.

The Tottenham ‘keeper with no answer to Lukaku’s power.
The Tottenham ‘keeper with no answer to Lukaku’s power. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images


GOAL! Belgium 2-0 France (Lukaku, 41 mins)

That’s how to finish! Romelu Lukaku thunders it into the onion bag!

Romelu Lukaku fires home the second for Belgium.
Romelu Lukaku fires home the second for Belgium. Photograph: Chris Ricco/UEFA/Getty Images


38 mins: After a delay while VAR checks a possible offside, the goal is confirmed.

Joy for Yannick Carrasco.
Joy for Yannick Carrasco. Photograph: CPS Images/Getty Images


GOAL! Belgium 1-0 France (Carrasco, 37 mins)

They’ve had a shot now! Yannick Carrasco cuts in from the left and sends a low shot inside the near post, with Lloris anticipating an effort across goal and completely wrong-footed.

Yannick Carrasco fires home the opener for the Belgians.
Yannick Carrasco fires home the opener for the Belgians. Photograph: Chris Ricco/UEFA/Getty Images


34 mins: All the play in the last 10 minutes seems to have been to the television viewer’s right, with Belgium attacking. France’s defensive organisation is strong, though, and they haven’t had a single shot in this period.

30 mins: A brilliant saving tackle from Kounde! Belgium have been much better at making inroads into the centre of France’s defence since I said they couldn’t, and here a flick through to Hazard looked certain to lead to a clear goalscoring chance before the defender’s leg intervened.

27 mins: A period of Belgium possession ends when Benzema decides he’s had enough of it and arrives at pace to surprise Witsel and steal the ball away. He releases Mbappé, who sprints down the left before hitting a cross into Denayer.

24 mins: For all that they’ve had the best chance of the match, Belgium are struggling to make any inroads into the centre of France’s defence. Both sides are playing with three central defenders, but with plenty of others dropping back to provide assistance.

21 mins: Benzema’s deep cross from the left is headed back to Griezmann, who flicks it on to Mbappé, whose volley is too close to Courtois. “Do Kylian Mbappé’s feet touch the ground as much as other mere mortals on a football field?” wonders Justin Kavanagh. “Or say compared to Usain Bolt over 100 meters? Now that would an interesting comparative stat. Zidane always appeared to glide around the pitch. Mbappé’s movement appears more like the imperceptible gallop of a cheetah or something.” He surely doesn’t have Bolt’s length of stride, but there’s some kind of rocket fuel in those boots.

18 mins: The ball is played at pace into Mbappe, whose first-time flick to Griezmann is consequently also a bit pacey, and runs out of play. Close, though.

16 mins: France push forward down the right. Seven red shirts are defending their area, five white shirts are attacking it. When the ball comes in, red wins.

14 mins: Pogba plays in Benzema, but Denayer gets back well to block the shot, and the linesman has his flag in the air anyway.

13 mins: Some nice combinations from France, with Griezmann dropping back into midfield to lend a hand while Mbappe and Benzema lurk on the defenders’ shoulders.

11 mins: Lukaku lays the ball back to De Bruyne, whose shot deflects wide. The corner is thumped clear.

8 mins: Save! Mbappe crosses and Pavard meets it with a spinning left-foot backheel volley, like you do. Courtois catches.

6 mins: An absolutely ridiculous burst of pace from Mbappe, whose feet aren’t in the right position when Hazard rolls the ball to him and so thumps it way overlong. It looks destined to run through to Courtois but before the keeper can cover four yards Mbappe has covered 15, but he then runs out of pitch.

Kylian Mbappe beats Thibaut Courtois, but runs out of space.
Kylian Mbappe beats Thibaut Courtois, but runs out of space. Photograph: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images


5 mins: Castagne takes out Mbappe on the halfway line - he was trying to win the ball, but missed it completely and just thundered into the French striker. Had he not done so, Mbappe would have had a lot of empty grass between him and Thibaut Courtois, but for some reason the referee doesn’t take out his book. An early-game free hit there.

4 mins: What a stop! Belgium nearly take the lead: Lukaku’s low cross from the right hits Kounde and drops to De Bruyne, who runs onto it and volleys it towards the near post, but Lloris somehow gets a strong enough hand to it to turn it round the post!

3 mins: Belgium have already overhit a couple of long balls straight back to the French defence. France meanwhile are being a little more patient.

1 min: Peeeeeep! Belgium get the game started!

Right then. Sure, it’s only the Nations League, but if last night’s game is anything to go by there’ll be no lack of effort or intensity. Out comes the little remote-controlled ball-delivery vehicle!

Two above-average anthems get an airing. Though of course I’m British, so everyone else’s anthem sounds good.

Out they come! France wear training tops bearing the slogan “Only one colour - that of the shirt”. Only in French, obviously.

The players are gathering in the tunnel. Kick-off is about six minutes away.

News just in: Belgian people exist.

Belgian fans at Juventus Stadium ahead of the Uefa Nations League semi-final against France.
Belgian fans at Juventus Stadium ahead of the Uefa Nations League semi-final against France. Photograph: Massimo Pinca/Reuters

All the photos trickling through, literall every one of them, is of French fans. I’m not sure if Belgium actually has any supporters in Turin.

Fans of France
Fans of France take a photograph prior to the Uefa Nations League 2021 semi-final between Belgium and France at Juventus Stadium in Turin. Photograph: Chris Ricco/Uefa/Getty Images

Fans are already settling into their seats. From the looks of the photographs that have been sent to us, they have used up all their flares already.

France’s supporters before the Uefa Nations League semi-final against France
France’s supporters cheer as they arrive prior to the Uefa Nations League semi-final against Belgium at the Juventus stadium in Turin. Photograph: Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images

The teams!

Team news is in, and tonight’s starting line-ups look like this:

Belgium: Courtois, Alderweireld, Denayer, Vertonghen, Castagne, Witsel, Tielemans, Carrasco, De Bruyne, Lukaku, E Hazard. Subs: Mignolet, Casteels, Boyata, Lukebakio, Foket, Theate, Vanaken, De Ketelaere, Dendoncker, Trossard, Saelemaekers, Batshuayi.
France XI: Lloris, Kounde, Varane, L Hernandez, Pavard, Pogba, Rabiot, T Hernandez, Benzema, Griezmann, Mbappe. Subs: Costil, Maignan, Kimpembe, Tchouameni, Martial, Diaby, Dubois, Guendouzi, Upemecano, Veretout, Digne, Ben Yedder.
Referee: Daniel Siebert (Germany).

1️⃣1️⃣ 💪 Let’s take on our neighbours. 🇧🇪 #SelectedbyPwC #DEVILTIME #BELFRA

— Belgian Red Devils (@BelRedDevils) October 7, 2021

La composition de l'Equipe de France pour affronter la Belgique ! 🇧🇪🇫🇷 #BELFRA #FiersdetreBleus

— Equipe de France ⭐⭐ (@equipedefrance) October 7, 2021

Hello world!

The world champions play the world No1s, and the only possible response is, thank you, I’ll have some of that. The prize for the winner is a place in Sunday’s Uefa Nations League final against Spain in Milan; the punishment for the loser is a third-place play-off against Italy a little earlier on Sunday, like tonight’s game in Turin.

Belgium don’t have Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens or Divock Origi, and they also don’t have much of a record against France in the latter stages of international competition, having never beaten them at a major finals. And, it seems, the French appear in no mood to let them start now. “There’s a trophy up for grabs. We want this trophy,” says Didier Deschamps. “In the past, there were two international titles, the Euros and the World Cup. There are now three with the Nations League, and we want to win it.”

Point of information! This is Article 18, clause 1 of the Nations League regulations:

If there is no winner at the end of normal time in a semi-final match or the final, two 15-minute periods of extra time are played. If there is still no winner after extra time, kicks from the penalty mark are required.

(But if scores in the third-place match are level after 90 minutes they go straight to a penalty shoot-out without bothering with extra time)

Excitement, or disappointment, is guaranteed. Welcome!



Simon Burnton

The GuardianTramp

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