By Mark Gleeson
NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (Reuters) - France have dispatched two former World Cup winners in the knockout stage but are still far from a polished product and only getting better, suggested coach Didier Deschamps in an ominous warning to semi-final opponents Belgium.
After a sluggish first round, the French team exploded to life in a thrilling 4-3 win over Argentina at the start of the knockout phase and further verified impressive credentials with a workman-like 2-0 victory over plucky Uruguay in Friday’s quarter-final at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.
"We had a complicated first round, without being flamboyant but realistic and effective. We did not break our stride. But from the match against Argentina, we have grown in strength," said the France coach.
"We were the better team against Uruguay but there are still some imperfections. We have a lot more potential to show."
Deschamps was most pleased by the fact a relatively young squad "showed their maturity" albeit scenes of petulance near the end could have cost one of two of the French a semi-final suspension.
With an average age of 26, France came into the World Cup in Russia with the second youngest 23-man squad.
"I have a young squad who are now working as a team and becoming more and more resolute. You can see their state of mind is positive and there has been a lot of progress," the coach said.
Advancing to the semi-finals allows Deschamps, who broke the record as France’s longest serving coach during the first round, another chance to emulate his playing success with a major title. Deschamps was the midfield enforcer in France's 1998 World Cup winning side.
France were knocked out in the World Cup quarter-finals in Brazil four years ago and beaten in Paris in the final of the 2016 European Championship.
Asked if he had now achieved his goal for this tournament by making the final four, Deschamps has given little away.
"I like to reach objectives but I’m not looking at it from a personal point of view. My pride is in my squad and my coaching staff."
And can they go all the way to next weekend’s final? "We are in the semi-finals," he smiled.
France take on their Belgian neighbours in St Petersburg on Tuesday.
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)