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France edge tense clash with Belgium to reach Euro 2024 quarter-finals

DÜSSELDORF — Jan Vertonghen’s late own goal took France into the quarter-finals of Euro 2024 on Monday as they edged Belgium 1-0 in a tense tie in Duesseldorf.

France had dominated the last-16 clash but their profligate finishing looked set to force extra time until they finally found a way through with five minutes left.

Substitute Randal Kolo Muani collected the ball inside the Belgian penalty area and hit a shot that was going wide until a deflection off the unfortunate Vertonghen took it past goalkeeper Koen Casteels.

The lucky break sent the 2022 World Cup runners-up into a last-eight tie in Hamburg on Friday as they remain on course to become European champions for the third time.

France are yet to score from open play in four matches at the tournament – captain Kylian Mbappe netted once from a penalty against Poland, while their other two goals have come from opposition defenders.

Crucially, however, they are rock solid in defence, having conceded only one goal, from a penalty, so far.

Their back line was outstanding against Romelu Lukaku and his fellow attackers, and Belgium bow out after what will go down as a disappointing tournament for them.

“It’s a shame,” said captain Kevin De Bruyne. “We had a plan. We knew they were strong. It’s a shame to concede a goal in the way we did.”

France, meanwhile, had a point to prove at the Euros after going out in the last 16 three years ago on penalties to Switzerland, a deeply disappointing result in between runs to consecutive World Cup finals.

The French were widely seen as the favourites to win this tournament before arriving in Germany, but they were below par during the group phase.

The broken nose suffered by Mbappe in their opening game against Austria did not help, and the uncertain form of Antoine Griezmann has been a problem too.

Griezmann was dropped for the last group match against Poland but returned here in one of two changes, with Marcus Thuram also coming in as wingers Ousmane Dembele and Bradley Barcola made way.

Belgium coach Domenico Tedesco responded to his side’s unconvincing group stage displays by giving starts to Yannick Carrasco and Lois Openda, while De Bruyne played a more withdrawn role.

The Belgians were happy to sit deep and did not test Mike Maignan in the first half other than from an awkward De Bruyne free-kick which the France goalkeeper blocked with his knee.

France had lots of the ball, yet often looked untidy, imprecise and rather flat, with Griezmann appearing lost on the right wing.

But they had chances in the first half, with Thuram heading just wide from Jules Kounde’s inviting cross just after the half-hour mark and Aurelien Tchouameni twice firing off target.

Tchouameni then tested Casteels with a deflected long-range strike as France upped their game at the beginning of the second half.

Mbappe accelerated inside and smashed a shot just over, and there was a sense a goal might be coming.

The breakthrough almost came for Belgium an hour in as William Saliba lost possession on halfway and De Bruyne released Carrasco, who was about to pull the trigger when Theo Hernandez arrived to make a brilliant saving block.

Maignan was finally called into action again 20 minutes from time to keep out a drive from Lukaku, and was called into action once more to deny De Bruyne.

It was becoming clear that one goal would decide the contest, and France got it in the 85th minute as N’Golo Kante fed Kolo Muani, and his shot went in off Vertonghen to take Les Bleus through. — AFP