France advanced to the semi-finals of the UEFA European Under-21 Championship with a 2-0 Group 2 win against Belgium at the Charmilles stadium in Geneva.
Two goals in the second half - an own goal from Koen Daerden and a strike by Pegguy Luyindula - were enough to break down Belgium's resistance as Raymond Domenech's side completed their third win in as many games in a section they topped comfortably.
Bréchet on target
Once Daerden had deflected Jérémie Bréchet’s header past goalkeeper Jean-Francois Gillet from a Steed Malbranque corner for France's 75th-minute opener there was only going to be one winner. Nevertheless, the goal was tough luck for Belgium who battled hard to resist the French for long periods.
France, who had beaten the Czech Republic 2-0 in their first game and Greece 3-1 in their second, started brightly in the first half with Sidney Govou and Pegguy Luyindula providing a real threat to the Belgian defence as they concentrated upon building down the left wing. Govou cut in from the right and beat defender Jonas De Roeck after 15 minutes but fired just over Gillet's crossbar, although it was not entirely one-way traffic.
Moments later, France goalkeeper Mickaël Landreau was forced to make his only serious save of the match as Stein Huysegems burst through the French defence and fired a low shot across him which Landreau did well to fend behind for a corner.
However, as Belgium weathered the early storm, France seemed to lose their way a little and it was not until midway through the second half that they raised the tempo again and started to cause Belgium any serious problems. Luyindula headed just wide from substitute Pierre-Alain Frau's cross after 71 minutes and barely three minutes later France were ahead as Daerden inadvertently beat Gillet.
Off the crossbar
Belgium seemed to crumble at that point and France won a succession of corners. However, their second goal after 85 minutes came from open play as Malbranque rampaged into the area and beat Gillet with a fierce shot only to see it rebound off the crossbar. Happily for him, Luyindula was waiting patiently inside the area for the ball to drop and he headed it past the despairing Gillet for what was to prove the killer blow.
"We knew it would not be easy," said France coach Domenech. "The Belgians never give up and they are an extremely organised side. It took us the best part of 80 minutes to wear them down but once we managed to get the breakthrough, we started to play to our full potential."
As the minutes ticked down, it could easily have been 3-0 to France. Govou cut in from the right to go one-on-one with Gillet but missed the target with his shot and moments later Peter Delorge's defensive header almost crept under his keeper's crossbar.
Having lost their last two games after a 2-0 win against Greece in their opening fixture, Belgium are now out of the tournament while the Czech Republic - who drew 1-1 with Greece in tonight's other Group 2 game - advance as group runners-up to the semi-finals.
De Sart pleased
Belgium coach Jean-François de Sart was not disheartened with his side. "Despite our defeat I was very happy with the way my players performed," he said. "The French were superior throughout the game but we battled hard and could have been lucky and got a goal on the counterattack. Once they scored it was very hard for us to come back and they deserved their win."
A good two years
De Sart praised his players efforts throughout the competition, saying: "Apart from the first half against the Czech Republic we have proved that we deserve to be playing at this level. I am extremely satisfied with the last two years I have spent with this group of players." Meanwhile, Domenech was looking forward to the semi-finals. "We have no suspensions or fitness problems," he said. "We could go all the way."