- Benjamin Pavard almost broke the deadlock but Thibaut Courtois pulled off brilliant stop to deflect ball wide
- French defence struggled to contain Eden Hazard in first half and Chelsea winger looked a constant threat
- Olivier Giroud scuffed a golden opportunity on the stretch and semi-final remained scoreless at the break
- Les Bleus took the lead through Samuel Umtiti's header after defender glanced in an effort from a corner
- Didier Deschamps' side showed brilliant organisation and tenacity to keep Belgium at bay and hold on
A game as fabulous as this should not really have been settled by something as prosaic as a corner.
There is nothing wrong with corners. They have been the cornerstone of England's whole World Cup campaign.
But this wonderful, intricate and skilful game of football deserved something more memorable with which to decorate it.
The contrast in emotion was stark at full time as Samuel Umtiti roared in ecstasy next to a miserable Romelu Lukaku
Umtiti headed France into the World Cup final after jumping across Marouane Fellaini before glancing his finish home
The French players celebrate with the centre back after he broke the deadlock in a tight, tense semi-final in Moscow
The Barcelona defender timed his run to perfection and Thibaut Courtois could not react in time to make the stop
MATCH FACTS 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
Instead, the whole thing came down to one of football's oldest facets, a battle of strength and will between two big athletic men at the near post.
This one was won by Frenchman Samuel Umtiti over Marouane Fellaini and as the Barcelona defender's header crashed in to the goal at the near post in the second half Belgium's carefully constructed World Cup campaign collapsed around their ankles.
So it will be Didier Deschamps' team who await the winner of England and Croatia in Sunday's final and whoever they play France will start as favourites. Against a beguiling and dextrous Belgium side, France began slowly here but grew inexorably and purposefully in to the game and by the end were worthy and courageous winners.
France did not begin this World Cup with any great elan but they have got steadily better and have now advanced through the tough half of the draw by beating Argentina, Uruguay and now Belgium.
They are three teams of substance and three victories from which France will take great confidence. The likes of Paul Pogba. N'Golo Kante and the mesmerising PSG speedster Kylian Mbappe were magnificent here as for the first time all month Belgium found themselves neutered
We should all feel for Roberto Martinez and Belgium as they have brought much to this World Cup. At times in the first half they looked as though they would unlock France and had they scored first they may have walked away with things.
But for all their possession and neat patterns they couldn't find a way to regularly hurt France. Hugo Lloris made only one significant save all night, that from a first half shot from Belgium defender Toby Alderweireld.
Martinez may ask himself why he stuck with the bespoke system he used to beat Brazil rather than revert to his usual back three. In the centre of the field, meanwhile, Tottenham's Moussa Dembele was run ragged by Pogba and Kante.
Paul Pogba's face said it all as the tension was released in one moment and Les Bleus took control of the semi-final
As has so often been the case at this World Cup, a set-piece proved to be vital with France scoring from a second-half corner
Fellaini trudges back to the halfway line to restart the game as Didier Deschamps' side came together in celebration
Pogba (left) and Umtiti (right) danced their way along in jubilation before being mobbed by the rest of the French team
He was the weakness of this Belgium eleven and France exploited his flat footedness and his lack of pace on the turn brilliantly.
But this was a game of fine margins and a game of high quality. It could have gone either way. We saw the best two teams in the World Cup here and one of them had to lose.
So often cagey and dour at this stage of a World Cup, this was not that. This was joyful and expressive and the only surprise was that we didn't see more goals.
For Belgium, Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard ran directly with familiar poise and wit while the French countered with bursts of pace of their own. Belgium started fast but could not maintain it.
Kante began breaking up Belgium possession with a surgeon's precision
and looked immediately for the lightening feet of Mbappe or the manly
heft of Olivier Giroud.
An aerial image perfectly illustrates the angle of Umtiti's finish after he managed to get wrong side of the Belgian defence
Olivier Giroud had a golden opportunity to break the deadlock but was a step too slow to take advantage of the chance
Chelsea and Belgium goalkeeper Courtois was a dependable presence in goal and kept the French at bay in the first half
Early on it was Belgium's game. Hazard and De Bruyne found space between the blue lines and their play just lacked a smart run from centre forward Romelu Lukaku or a kind bounce to bring them some tangible joy.
Hazard shot across goal with his left foot in the 16th minute while a wicked curling shot from the Chelsea player looked destined for the top corner before it struck French defender Raphael Varane on the back and span over.
It seemed only a matter of time before Lloris got busy in the France goal and sure enough he was called upon midway through the half.
from the right dropped to Alderweireld 14 yards from goal and the
Tottenham defender produced a dangerous half-volleyed shot on the turn
which his Premier League team-mate had to turn round the post at full
stretch. It was a nice height for Lloris and he got two hands to it but
it was still a good save.
So the Belgian threat was clear but so, as France grew in to the game, was their vulnerability. Early in the tournament when they beat Tunisia 5-2 there were signs of uncertainty at the heart of the Belgium defence and when France won a corner courtesy of a Giroud turn and deflected shot in the 51st minute Umtiti lumbered forward to earn his place in French history.
Eden Hazard was electric for Roberto Martinez's side and the France defence struggled to handle him going forward
Hugo Lloris had to be at full stretch to parry Toby Alderweireld's snap shot around the post following a Belgium corner
The ball is fired narrowly wide of Lloris' post as neither team managed to open the scoring in the first 45 minutes in Moscow
Pogba put a ball through for Kylian Mbappe and the rapid striker almost latched on to it but Courtois averted the danger
Blaise Matuidi attempts to keep the ball in play as West Brom winger Nacer Chadli looks to guide it out for a goal kick
Replays showed his header may have brushed Fellaini's curls on the way in. The Manchester United player looked bereft afterwards but his pain should be eased by the knowledge that he has had a good World Cup.
had been signs before that goal that the French threat was growing.
Thibaut Courtois' foot had denied Benjamin Pavard late in the first half
while Antoine Griezmann had also come close.
Martinez eventually changed things and when Dries Mertens replaced the drowning Dembele Belgium came again courtesy of a Fellaini header and drive from Axel Witsel. But France were emboldened by a sense of opportunity by this stage and would not let Belgium through.
They defend well, this French team and that should not be overlooked. At the business end of this entertaining World Cup, it remains a fundamental skill. As does the taking of good corner kicks.
Fellaini, who was beaten in the air for the goal, missed getting on the end of a whipped delivery before Lloris punched it clear
Les Bleus lie in wait for either England or Croatia, who face each other on Wednesday, and will be formidable opposition
Belgium brought so much to this World Cup but their superb attacking play was not enough to unlock the France defence
Deschamps embraced his central defender Umtiti on full time after the French held off a late rally from the Belgium team