Belgium 2-3 France: Les Bleus to face Spain in Nations League final after Theo Hernandez caps epic comeback

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 (BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)
(BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

Theo Hernandez scored a dramatic late winner as France completed a remarkable comeback against Belgium to set up a Nations League final showdown with Spain.

Les Bleus trailed 2-0 at half-time in Thursday’s epic last-four tie after goals from Yannick Carrasco and Romelu Lukaku, but were much improved after the break and pulled level courtesy of Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe’s penalty.

Lukaku saw a late second goal ruled out for offside before Hernandez - who started alongside brother Lucas in Turin - fired home in stoppage time to complete an extraordinary fightback by the reigning world champions.

Spain reached the final on Wednesday night after a brace from Manchester City’s Ferran Torres ended European champions Italy’s world-record 37-match unbeaten run in another captivating heavyweight semi-final tie.

Italy and Belgium will now go head to head in a third-place play-off at the weekend that will be a repeat of the Euros quarter-final from Munich.

The tone for an engrossing opening was set when Tottenham captain Hugo Lloris made a sublime one-handed save to deny the returning Kevin De Bruyne - making his first Belgium appearance since the Euros defeat by Italy - from close range.

As you might expect from two teams with so much attacking quality and firepower, there was stylish and eye-catching football at both ends, with Thibaut Courtois making a comfortable save after Benjamin Pavard had got the wrong side of Carrasco and turned the lively Mbappe’s cross goal-bound.

Courtois easily held from Mbappe - who missed last month’s win over Finland through injury - and the first half became a chess match between two teams trading spells of decent possession but each struggling to break down the other’s rigid defensive shape.

Jules Kounde make a terrific last-ditch tackle to stop Eden Hazard from putting Belgium ahead, while France were denied a penalty after Jason Denayer accidentally handled the ball inside the box after stumbling to thwart Mbappe.

Belgium then took control of proceedings with a quick-fire double before half-time.

The first came when Carrasco cut in from the left flank and beat Pavard before fooling a stationary Lloris with a low driven effort to his near post that nestled in the back of the net.

Just three minutes later, Lukaku dummied De Bruyne’s perfectly-weighted low pass into the box and easily ran away from Lucas Hernandez before lashing an unstoppable strike into the roof of the net from a tough angle, with Lloris beaten all ends up at his front post.

Stunned France tried to fight back before the interval, but Mbappe could only shoot into the side netting.

The second half began in a similar vein to the first, with Paul Pogba arrowing a shot wide after intercepting De Bruyne’s flick and then heading a free-kick over the crossbar, while at the other end Lukaku’s scuffed volley did not trouble Lloris.

A glorious opportunity for France went begging when Mbappe breezed to the byline and his deflected cross was somehow turned wide by Antoine Griezmann.

But now Didier Deschamps’ side were resurgent and they reduced the deficit just past the hour mark when Benzema combined with Mbappe inside the box and dug out a shot into the bottom corner despite being surrounded by red shirts.

They were quickly back on level terms, with German referee Daniel Siebert advised by the VAR to check the pitchside monitor after Griezmann had his foot clipped by Youri Tielemans inside the Belgium box.

He pointed to the spot after watching the replays and Mbappe then stepped up to thunder home the penalty, with Courtois guessing the right way but never having a chance to stop it.

The drama only continued from there, with Belgium suddenly springing into life and Lloris making a fingertip save to tip over a vicious strike from De Bruyne.

Courtois denied substitute Aurelien Tchouameni and there were further chances for Lukaku and Griezmann before Mbappe curled narrowly wide of the near post.

Lukaku thought he had won it for Belgium when Carrasco escaped Pavard all too easily down the Belgium left, side-footing a low cross beyond Lloris after getting the right side of Lucas Hernandez.

However, he was just ahead of his marker when the ball was delivered and the goal was ruled out for offside after a VAR check.

Pogba then curled a tremendous free-kick against the crossbar in a frantic finish, but France would not be denied as Belgium could not clear Pavard’s cross and Theo Hernandez took a touch to steady himself before producing a strike that went in off the hand of the despairing Courtois.

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