ST PETERSBURG (Reuters) – France coach Didier Deschamps heaped praise on his players after they reached the World Cup final with a 1-0 win over Belgium on Tuesday, saying the lost final at Euro 2016 was still on his mind.
Samuel Umtiti’s 51st-minute header sent the French into the final and Deschamps’ side will face England or Croatia in Moscow on Sunday as they look to lift the trophy for the second time following their triumph on home soil in 1998.
“This is exceptional. I am very happy for my players, we showed character and the right mentality,” said Deschamps, who captained France in 1998.
“Two years ago, I remember what happened two years ago,” he said in reference to his team’s 1-0 defeat to Portugal in Paris in the Euro final. “We will go into this final to win it, as we have still not gotten over the (2016) final.”
Deschamps may have bitter memories from that Euro final in front of a home crowd, but he is now on the verge of joining an elite club of coaches who have also won the World Cup as players.
Brazilian Mario Zagallo won the 1958 and the 1962 World Cups as a player and then coached Brazil to the 1970 title, while Franz Beckenbauer was captain of West Germany in 1974 and led them to the world title in 1990 as their coach.
“I feel very proud for my group. We have been 49 days together,” Deschamps said. “There were a lot of things, a lot of difficult things. Everyone can take credit.”
Teenager Kylian Mbappe, who was not part of the France team two years ago, said even in his wildest dreams he would not have imagined reaching the World Cup final.
“It is unbelievable. It is the dream of dreams, the dream of the future, everything,” said 19-year-old Mbappe, who tormented the Belgian defense with his runs.
“I don’t have the words. Not even in my wildest dreams, and I am a big dreamer, would I have imagined this,” he said.
“There is still one more step to take, but we are proud of what we have done.”
“In the changing room, Didier Deschamps was happy. We were all happy, all hugging. (France) President Emmanuel Macron came down to see us. Everyone is with us, we’re all in this together.”
Asked what Macron, who had been in the stands, said, he replied: “He said he would come back for the final, to see us with the Cup.”
(This version of the story fixes typo in paragraph 11 to say .. one more step to take ..not.. one my step to take)
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Hugh Lawson