France fight back in dramatic style to beat Belgium and reach Nations League final

Last-minute winner from Hernandez earns Les Bleus 3-2 victory having trailed 2-0 at half-time

France showed they are still among the best national teams in the world following their superb 3-2 comeback win over Belgium to reach the Nation Leagues final on Thursday, manager Didier Deschamps said.

The world champions, who struggled in consecutive draws against Bosnia and Ukraine before beating Finland in World Cup qualifiers, were on the ropes in the semi-final against the world's top-ranked team when they trailed 2-0 at halftime.

But a spectacular reaction, culminating with Theo Hernandez's last-minute goal, earned France a spot in Sunday's final against Spain.

"We were knocked out by Switzerland [at Euro 2020] but the France national team is still here," Deschamps said after goals from Karim Benzema, Kylian Mbappe and Hernandez followed first-half strikes for Belgium by Yannick Carrasco and Romelu Lukaku.

"We confirmed what we did against Finland, against Belgium who are the best nation in Europe, in the world. We're still among the best teams.

"It's one of the best because of how it unfolded, because of the quality of our opponents. Despite the adversity we had the pride and the character to turn it around. It is a great, great moment."

France started well but were overwhelmed in the last 20 minutes of the first half, allowing Belgium to take what seemed to be a comfortable lead, but they suffocated Roberto Martinez's side after the break.

"We were below our par in the last part of the first half but once we played more aggressively it was another story. The players were feeling down at halftime but it's because we had given Belgium the opportunity to score those two goals," said Deschamps.

"The players showed pride and character," he added, heaping praise on the defensive work of the three attacking players - Mbappe, Benzema and Antoine Griezmann.

Mbappe, who had not scored in his six previous internationals, set up Benzema for the opener before levelling with a penalty, after missing the decisive spot-kick against Switzerland in June.

"Kylian didn't have any doubts. He was determined after lacking efficiency at the Euros. Like I always said, the French team is better with than without Kylian Mbappe," Deschamps said.

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez believes the weight of responsibility his players felt in their quest for silverware was to blame for their second-half collapse.

“The second half was a question of emotion, feeling the responsibility of getting to the final,” Martinez said.

“All of a sudden it became a game that we wanted to finish. At that point we stopped playing. If anything, it is the responsibility we feel to our fans and the way this generation wants to bring silverware in such a desperate manner."

It was another disappointment for Belgium fans, who have seen their talented team go out at the last eight stage in the last two European Championships and finish third at the 2018 World Cup, but Martinez was hopeful the experience could prove useful ahead of next year’s World Cup in Qatar.

“What you have to upload is the commitment and desire of wanting to be there. We are in the right phases of the competitions,” he said.

“Now it is making sure we learn. We all feel as a nation that we are all together hurting, but 12 months from now we have a major tournament. It is a good moment for us to show resilience, that we want to grow even through this cruel experience.”

Updated: October 8th 2021, 6:24 AM