MOSCOW, July 11, 2018 (News Wires) - France coach Didier Deschamps hailed the character of his young team after they beat Belgium 1-0 on Tuesday to set up a World Cup final against either England or Croatia in Moscow.
Samuel Umtiti's 51st-minute header at St Petersburg Stadium sent the French into the final, where they will be seeking their second win since 1998 - when Deschamps captained them on home soil.
"It was exceptional," Deschamps said in a pitchside interview.
"I'm very happy for my players, we showed character and the right mentality, it was very hard for us tonight. We worked hard defensively.
"We had to take advantage a bit more in the counter attacks. but congratulations to my players and my staff. I feel very proud for my group," said Deschamps, who is aiming to join Germany's Franz Beckenbauer and Brazil's Mario Zagallo as the only men to have won the World Cup as both a player and a manager.
"Forty-nine days together, it is a lot of things, difficult things, the group stage, it is the merit of everyone."
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez was also proud of his players despite the defeat.
"Unfortunately for us the difference was a dead-ball situation. The game was very close, very tight and it was going to be decided by a little bit of luck in front of goal," said the Spaniard.
"I thought the attitude of the players was magnificent and I couldn't ask for any more. The players gave everything and were pushing until the last second to get back in the game.
"That's the detail you get in the semifinal of the World Cup.
"We're disappointed, we wanted to get into the final, we need to put this behind us and look forward to the next game. We need to go out on a real high, these players deserve that."
Goalscorer Umtiti said the win had come on the back of the work of the entire team.
"A lot of pride," said the defender. "We worked hard ... I scored but we delivered a good match and I'm very proud of everyone. They worked in '98 and we worked today, we reached out target to get to the final, I'm very satisfied."
Meanwhile, a wave of euphoria swept across France late on Tuesday and a nation of ardent soccer fans began dreaming of World Cup glory after Les Bleus defeated Belgium 1-0 to reach the final.
Delirious supporters draped in the Tricolor flag spilt on to Parisian boulevards as the blare of car horns reverberated through the French capital.
In a fan zone outside City Hall on the banks of the River Seine, jubilant supporters embraced and lit smoke flares.
"I'm totally blown away, this is crazy," said 41-year-old Gilles Rove in Paris' Belleville neighbourhood. "Nobody believed this could happen at the beginning of the World Cup, but this team has really shown something in recent weeks.
"This team gives me goosebumps, even more so than the team of 1998," he added, in reference to the last time France won the World Cup, on home soil against Brazil 20 years ago.
Tens of thousands of fans poured on to the Champs Elysees as bars, cafes and restaurants enjoyed a bumper evening of revelry after the World Cup equivalent of a local derby, a match between neighbours with a heavy dose of national rivalry and friendly banter flowing in the run-up.
"We're going to the final, we're going to the final," scores chanted in one central Paris bar before breaking out into an impromptu rendition of the La Marseillaise national anthem.
"A Duel Between Friends" France's Journal du Dimanche had declared, with a cartoon on the front page taken from the comic book "Asterix in Belgium", when the plucky Gauls encounter a rival tribe from across the border.
Some French fans were already looking forward to a possible final clash against long-time rivals England, who play Croatia in the second semifinal on Wednesday.
"Our unfortunate Belgian cousins were just not quite good enough. But it was Europe which won, and it would be amusing if we were to beat the English," said 45-year-old Francois Garnier who watched the game near the Eiffel Tower.
In St Petersburg, ecstatic French fans sang their way out of the stadium, relishing the prospect of a final against England or Croatia.
Belgium fans filed quietly out of the arena, but remained proud in defeat after their first semifinal appearance since 1986.
"Today we were a little bit unlucky, but it could have been the both sides (who could win) so we played well. I am happy that I came here and now we will go for the third place," Belgium fan Patrick Robert Wouters said.
"I am proud of my team," he added.
France won in front of President Emmanuel Macron, who went down to the players' dressing-room after the match.
Asked what Macron told the players, Les Bleus young forward Kylian Mbappe told TF1: "He said he would come back for the final, to see us with the cup."
KAZAN, June 27, 2018 (News Wires) - Joachim Loew says he needs time to decide his future after Germany crashed out of the World Cup finals following a shock 2-0 defeat to South Korea on Wednesday.
After 12 years in charge, Germany's head coach will be under intense pressure to resign in the coming days, despite having only signed a contract extension until 2022 last month.
"It's too soon for me to answer, it will take a few hours to see things clearly, the disappointment is very deep in me," 58-year Loew when asked if he will resign.
"We will have to have discussions tomorrow, we'll see how it goes."
It is the first time Germany have failed to qualify from the group stages at a World Cup since 1938 as the holders became the latest defending champions to crash out early.
"This is a huge disappointment for us – there was deathly silence in the dressing room," said Loew.
"Congratulations to our opponents, the Swedes and the Mexicans.
"We were rightly eliminated from the tournament.
"We had many goal possibilities, but we could not force the goal."
MADRID, June 13, 2018 (News Wires) - Spain dramatically sacked coach Julen Lopetegui on Wednesday and appointed federation sporting director Fernando Hierro -- just two days before the team's opening game at the World Cup.
In a surprise announcement on Tuesday, Real Madrid appointed Lopetegui as Zinedine Zidane's successor to take over after the tournament in Russia, sparking outrage among the federation and Spanish fans at the timing of the announcement.
At a severely delayed press conference at Spain's World Cup base in Krasnodar, Spanish football federation (RFEF) chief Luis Rubiales expressed dismay at the timing of events that threaten to derail Spain's World Cup chances.
"The national team is the team for all Spaniards and there are some decisions we feel obliged to take to protect some values," said Rubiales.
"Negotiating is legitimate but it took place without the RFEF being informed until five minutes before a press statement was released. There has to be a message for all workers in the federation that there is a right way to do things."
Later Wednesday, Spain named Hierro as the coach for the tournament in Russia.
"Fernando Hierro will assume coaching responsibilities at the World Cup in Russia," the Spanish football federation announced.
The 50-year-old Hierro's only real coaching experience came when he was in charge of second division Spanish outfit Oviedo for one season.
Lopetegui had signed a contract extension until 2020 just last month and never tasted defeat in his 20 games in charge as Spain boss.
Spain are due to face European champions Portugal in Sochi on Friday before taking on Iran and Morocco in Group B.
BARCELONA, June 1, 2018 (News Wires) - Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino responded on Friday to speculation that he is Real Madrid's favoured candidate to succeed Zinedine Zidane as coach by saying: "What will be, will be."
Pochettino, speaking in Barcelona at the launch of the Spanish version of his book "A Brave New World", said he was happy at the north London club where he last week signed a new and improved contract.
"I have a five-year deal with Tottenham and I'm very happy at the club. My commitment is at a maximum level," the Argentinian said.
"We need to relax and take things as they come. After that we'll see what happens."
Zidane shocked Real by revealing he was leaving the club just days after making history by winning a third successive Champions League title.
Pochettino said he could understand the pressure that the Frenchman had been under.
"When a name is associated with Real Madrid, the expectations are immense... Football throws up circumstances you don't expect and you have to make the most of it each day.
"What will be, will be."
Spanish sports daily AS reported that Pochettino's new contract does not include an agreement that he can leave Tottenham if Real make an approach for him.
Pochettino led Spurs to third place in the Premier League in the just-completed season, behind Manchester United and runaway winners Manchester City.
MADRID, May 31, 2018 (News Wires) - Zinedine Zidane has decided to stand down as Real Madrid manager after leading the club to three Champions League titles in two-and-a-half seasons in charge.
Zidane revealed his decision in a hastily-arranged press conference in the Spanish capital on Thursday. President Florentino Perez appeared alongside him and revealed it was an "unexpected decision".
"I have taken the decision not to continue next year," Zidane told the media.
"I love this club and the president who gave me the chance to play for this club and manage the club of my dreams. But everything changes and that's why I've taken the decision to leave."
Zidane took over at Real Madrid following the sacking of Rafa Benitez in January 2016 and won three successive Champions League titles, as well as the Liga title in 2016-17.
The Frenchman also lead Madrid to back-to-back European Super Cups and Club World Cups in 2016 and 2017.
Perez said: "This was a totally unexpected decision and today is a sad day for me and for everyone who works for this club.
"We must thank him for his care and passion for Real Madrid over these years. "The only thing I want to say is 'hasta pronto' because I know he will return, maybe after a rest."
Zidane said his association with Madrid may not be at an end. During his five-year playing career at Madrid between 2001 and 2006, Zidane won the Champions League in 2002 and La Liga in 2003. As assistant to Carlo Ancelotti, he was on the bench in Lisbon when Madrid secured La Decima in 2014.
"Like I told the president it could be a 'see you soon' because Madrid has given me everything," Zidane added.
As to his future plans, Zidane said he was not looking to rush back into management.
NEW YORK, March 10, 2018 (Reuters) - Former world number one Maria Sharapova said on Saturday she had split with her coach Sven Groeneveld, two days after losing a third consecutive match for the first time since 2003.
The news comes after Sharapova, who said the decision to end their four-year partnership was “mutually agreed”, was beaten by 44th-ranked Naomi Osaka in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open in California on Wednesday.
After losing in the third round of the Australian Open to Angelique Kerber she was then beaten in the first round of the Qatar Open by Romanian qualifier Monica Niculescu.
She pulled out of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
Sharapova has struggled to recapture top form since her 15-month ban for taking the banned drug meldonium ended last April.
“After four successful and challenging years of collaboration together, I would like to thank Sven for his incredible loyalty, work ethic and most importantly the friendship that we have formed that will go beyond this working partnership,” Sharapova said in a statement on her website.
“Although we have mutually agreed to part ways during this time, I have been incredibly fortunate to have a team leader like him in my corner for the past four years.”
Russian Sharapova won seven titles during her time with Groeneveld, most notably the 2014 French Open.
A two-time champion at Indian Wells, Sharapova, currently ranked 41st in the world, won the Tianjin Open in October for her first triumph since returning to the WTA Tour, but has not come close to challenging for a tournament victory since.
“Maria has been one of the most hardworking and professional players I have ever worked with,” Groeneveld said.
“Her strength and fighting spirit will continue to be a force to reckon with and I have the deepest respect for her as a player and person.”