Florian Thauvin was not going to be denied.
With France engaged in a tough battle against Ghana in the U-20 World Cup semifinals, the forward came through in a big way, scoring two goals to lead the French side to a 2-1 victory and place in the final.
It was a game of two halves, as France dominated early before Ghana went on the offensive in the second. But behind Thauvin and a brilliant performance from keeper Alphonse Areola, France held on and earned the win.
Lucas Digne nearly got France on the board in the fifth minute, played into the box with a bit of lovely build-up play by France, but his wrong-footed effort was handled by keeper Eric Antwi.
A minute later, Jean-Christophe Bahebeck was set free on a breakaway with the Ghana defense on his heels, but his effort from a tough angle hit the side netting.
France kept the pressure up. Digne broke down the left flank in the 13th minute and centered a feed for Yaya Sanogo, who saw his first effort blocked by Antwi. The rebound came to Sanogo but again Ghana's keeper rejected his attempt on goal.
Minutes later, Thauvin blasted from range, but Antwi managed to push the swerving effort out of play. Early on, Ghana's keeper kept his side in the match.
Thauvin would again blast from range in the 39th minute, but this time his attempt sailed just over the bar. The forward was certainly in the mood to find the netting in the first half.
He would finally scratch that itch in the 43rd minute.
Rushing forward on a counter, Thauvin played a lovely one-two with Bahebeck and raced into the box unmarked. He promptly deked Antwi to the right and rounded the keeper before calmly slotting home the game's first tally.
A minute later Ghana nearly erased the lead, but Frank Acheampong's glancing header flew over the crossbar with inches to spare.
That would be it for the first half, one completely bossed by France, which controlled 54 percent of possession and took 20 shots (12 on frame) to Ghana's five (two on target).
But for all of France's domination in the first 45, it was Ghana that struck in the 47th minute.
Ebenezer Assifuah did brilliantly to chest down a pass outside of the box, fend off a French defender, cooly slide the ball into a shooting position and let rip a rocket that French keeper Areola never had a chance of stopping.
It was a truly impressive individual effort, as Michael Cummings of Bleacher Report noted:
Minutes later, however, Areola would preserve the draw, knocking away Acheampong's curling free kick from the top-right corner. On the ensuing corner he again came up clutch, this time denying a dangerous attempt from Michael Anaba.
After being dominated in the first half, Ghana came out with a purpose in the second half.
But just as Ghana scored its first goal against the run of play, France would do the same in the 74th minute after finding themselves on the defensive for much of the second half.
And again, it was Thauvin. Taking the ball down the right flank, he cut in on his left foot from the edge of the box and quickly snapped a low drive that replacement keeper Michael Sai couldn't save.
A minute later, Areola made another stunning save and preserved France's lead, denying Assifuah's toe poke with a diving effort.
Things would get very interesting in the 80th minute, however, as Samuel Umtiti was sent off after receiving his second yellow card, leaving France a man down. As Ives Galarcep noted, it was a questionable call:
By making a fourth incredible save, Areola would ensure Ghana couldn't capitalize on the man advantage. He denied Assifuah by getting his fingertips on the forward's blast and pushing the ball clear of the crossbar.
That would be Ghana's last gasp, and France survived with a nervy win.
Men of the Match: Florian Thauvin and Alphonse Areola, France
You can't deny the man who scored two goals the Man of the Match honors. Then again, how do you deny the man who made four crucial saves for his team and preserved the lead late?
The answer is, you don't. You simply make Thauvin and Areloa split Man of the Match winners. Thauvin was France's most dangerous attacker from the opening whistle and the game-winning goal was an excellent individual effort.
Assifuah will have nightmares about the saves Areola pulled off.
A fine effort by both players, and each are worthy Man of the Match winners.
France awaits the winner of Iraq versus Uruguay in Wednesday's second semifinal, while Ghana will now play the loser.
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