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FRANCE AND BELGIUM THROUGH TO WORLD CUP SEMI-FINALS

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FRANCE and Belgium are the first two teams to qualify for the last four of the 2018 World Cup on Friday 13th July.

Real Madrid defender Rafael Varane opened the scoring in Nizhny Novgorod with a glancing header from Antoine Griezmann’s free-kick on 40 minutes to put France ahead.

Griezmann doubled their advantage in the second half in fortuitous circumstances as Uruguayan goalkeeper Fernando Muslera failed to keep out his speculative strike.

It is the first time France have been in the last four since 2006 and sets up an exciting mouth-watering clash against either Belgium or Brazil, in St. Petersburg on Tuesday.

In the second encounter, Belgium led Brazil 2-0 at the halftime whistle through a Fernandinho own goal in the 13th minute and Kevin de Bruyne in the 31st minute; while Renato Augusto pulled one back for the Brazilians in the 76th minute.

Meanwhile, it was Griezmann’s third goal of this World Cup, but his first not from a penalty.

That goal secured the victory but did not end the drama in Nizhny Novgorod, as Uruguay’s frustration boiled over in the 67th minute when Kylian Mbappe fell to the floor.

Uruguay skipper Diego Godin gestured with the teenager to get up, then tried to pull him from the turf, sparking a melee which involved most of the players and saw French coach Didier Deschamps going onto the pitch to try to calm tempers.

France’s victory was merited as it was they who had the bulk of possession and always looked the most likely to score.

Uruguayan goalkeeper Fernando Muslera watches the ball leak into the net after he misplayed an Antoine Griezmann shot in the second half; France’s Benjamin Pavard, top, and Uruguay’s Cristian Rodriguez compete for a header. (PHOTO: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images/ Petr David Josek/AP)

They might have scored as early as the 15th minute when Mbappe mistimed a close header.

The lightning-quick Mbappe and Griezmann struck fear into the Uruguayan defence all afternoon.

In midfield, France’s N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba snuffed out any potential threat posed by Uruguay.

Up front for La Celeste, Luis Suarez cut an isolated and agitated figure as his team desperately went in search of an equaliser as Edinson Cavani was ruled out with injury.

Increasingly, Suarez vented his frustration with Argentinian referee Nestor Pitana, who, coincidentally, was the official in charge of France’s quarter-final 2014 defeat.

The Barcelona star was partnered by Cristhian Stuani after a week of will-he-won’t-he speculation surrounding Cavani ended up with the Paris Saint-Germain striker failing to recover from a calf strain.

Without Cavani, Uruguay posed little threat.

A tight and nervy encounter to begin with, the game burst into life after Varane’s goal.

Until that point Uruguay had struggled to get into the French penalty area, but within four minutes of the goal, would have been level, except for an exceptional save by Hugo Lloris.

The French skipper saved superbly with one-hand from defender Martin Caceres, whose header from a free kick looked destined to go in.

Diego Godin could have scored from the follow-up, but that was the closest the South Americans came to scoring all afternoon.

In more World Cup quarterfinal action today, Sweden plays England at the Cosmos Arena, while hosts Russia takes on Croatia at First Stadium.

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