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Paul Pogba has dedicated France’s World Cup semi-final victory to the 12 boys rescued from a Thai cave.
The French football star hailed the youngsters as “heroes” after they spent more than two weeks trapped inside the flooded cave system. His comments came after France secured a place in the World Cup final with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Belgium in St Petersburg.
After the game, Pogba tweeted: “This victory goes to the heroes of the day, well done boys, you are so strong.”
The boys, who are members of the Wild Boars youth football team, were invited to the final in Russia on Sunday but are unable to attend for health reasons.
They are being assessed in hospital along with their 25-year-old coach, who was also rescued.
France defender Samuel Umtiti scored the winning goal for his team against Belgium with a powerful header in the 51st minute.
It means the 1998 World Cup winners will play either England or Croatia in the eagerly-awaited final on Sunday.
The remaining semi-final takes place at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday, with the Three Lions looking to make it to the final for the first time since 1966.
France will be the favourites to win the title after a strong performance against a star-studded Belgium side featuring the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku.
Umtiti rose brilliantly to shrug off Marouane Fellaini and head in Antoine Griezmann’s corner for his first goal of the tournament.
France’s 19-year-old rising star Kylian Mbappe was a constant threat going forward, while midfielder Pogba produced a performance described as “immense” by former England captain Rio Ferdinand.
Football-loving French President Emmanuel Macron and Belgian King Philippe were watching the game from the stands, along with Rolling Stones front-man Sir Mick Jagger.
Didier Deschamps’ team have now beaten Belgium, Uruguay and Argentina on the way to their first World Cup final since 2006.
In that year, they lost to Italy in a game that saw Zinedine Zidane sent off for an infamous headbutt in his last ever match.
After the semi-final, Belgium boss Roberto Martinez said his team wanted to win the third-place play-off on Saturday to finish the tournament “on a real high”.
“We wanted to get into the final,” the former Everton manager said.
“The players showed incredible focus and incredible togetherness. We need to make sure we finish this tournament on a real high.”