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World Cup Matchday 20: France, Belgium punch tickets to semifinals

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The first half of the tournament’s final four has been finalized.

Soccer: World Cup-Uruguay vs France Witters Sport-USA TODAY Sports

Half of the 2018 World Cup’s semifinal round is set with the first two quarterfinal matches in the books. France needed a goal in either half to top Uruguay in Nizhny Novograd, while Belgium raced to a 2-0 first half lead before holding off Brazil in Kazan.

France 2-0 Uruguay

Les Bleus hadn’t been to a World Cup semifinal since finishing as runners-up in 2006. That changed on Friday as it eliminated its South American opponent to put itself a pair of wins away from its first world championship in 20 years.

Raphael Varane got France on the board first in the 40th minute as he headed it past Uruguay keeper Fernando Muslera on a nice free kick delivery from Antoine Griezmann.

Uruguay had a chance to put itself back on terms in the 44th if not for a massive save by Hugo Lloris to keep the score as is. France would eventually go up by two, though, as Muslera let in a howler in the 61st by bobbling a Griezmann shot from distance and deflecting it past the line. Les Bleus saw it out from there to advance and position itself as a potential finalist.

Belgium 2-1 Brazil

Roberto Martinez may be facing criticism for his managerial moves at the helm of the Belgian national team, but he has it in the semifinals after a victory over Brazil.

Things didn’t start off well for the Brazilians, though, as they sought to remain on the path for a sixth World Cup title. In the 13th minute, goalkeeper Alisson was left to watch helplessly as a goal kick played into the box deflected off the head of Fernandinho and into the net to give Belgium a 1-0 lead. Less than 20 minutes later, Romelu Lukaku capped a brilliant counter attack with a nice pass to Kevin De Bruyne, who lasered a shot past a diving Alisson to double the score.

Brazil pulled one back as Renato Augusto made it 2-1 in the 76th minute. It could have been 2-2 as Ao Selecao made a bid to tie it late, but a mishit by Phillipe Coutinho right in front of the net and an unbelievable save by Thibault Courtois resulted in the Red Devils moving on to their first semifinal appearance in 32 years.

France and Belgium face off on Tuesday at 2pm ET in Saint Petersburg with the winner heading to the final in Moscow on July 15. France are looking for its third appearance in the final, while Belgium have never finished better than fourth.