Our football expert previews the soccer world cup semi-final clash between France and Belgium which takes place on Tuesday 10 July 2018.
This for me will be a final before the final as two of the strongest sides left in the soccer world cup square off. After easing past a defensively resolute Uruguayan side, France face a mammoth of a task to overcome Belgium in the penultimate stage of the greatest football tournament in the world.
The Belgian Red Devils mesmerised the whole football fraternity last week when they ousted one of the tournament favourites – Brazil – to take one step closer to being crowned champions.
France v Belgium | Semi-Final | Tuesday 10 July | Saint Petersburg Stadium | 20:00
To Win (90 Mins)
Les Bleus have been superb in the tournament so far, winning four and drawing one of their five games. One has to also remember that the draw against Denmark in the group stage was a dead rubber from their perspective as they had already sealed last 16 qualification.
The match against Argentina in the round of 16 was a test of character as they came back from 2-1 down to win 4-3 against one of the best teams on paper. The recent 2-0 win over Uruguay proved that they can breach any defence as they managed to find the back of the net twice against a team that had conceded just one goal in 11 matches.
Kylian Mbappe has been in devastating form and everyone is raving about his speed and creativity. The 19-year old’s brace against Argentina made him the first teenager to score twice in a world cup match since Pele did in 1958. Blaise Matuidi was suspended for the previous round match and he will be back for this semi-final clash. The Juventus midfielder’s absence was slightly felt as Corentin Tolisso failed to completely fill his big boots.
Didier Deschamps was captain of the French national team when they won the 1998 tournament and will be hoping to become only the third person to win it as player and coach after Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer.
The Red Devils displayed the best counter-attacking tactics against Brazil as they had Axel Witsel, Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli protecting the defence and upon regaining possession they’d pass forward to the powerful Romelu Lukaku, speedy Eden Hazard and intelligent Kevin De Bruyne.
The French defence will have their work cut out for them against this creative trio. Lukaku is currently on five goals for the tournament, just one behind the leading scorer, Harry Kane. He has now become the national team’s all-time leading goalscorer.
Thierry Henry was part of the French team captained by Deschamps when they won the 1998 World Cup and now they face each other as assistant coach and head coach respectively which prompted France striker Olivier Giroud to say “It is bizarre to have Thierry against us in this match. I would be very proud to show Thierry that he chose the wrong camp.”
Free-scoring Belgium have won all their five matches in the tournament, scoring 14 goals in the process and conceding five. The “golden generation” will be looking to better their best ever soccer world cup record, which is finishing fourth in the 1986 tournament.
Verdict: France 29/20
Midfield battle is going to be key here and that’s where Brazil lost it against Belgium as they were without Casemiro. I foresee N’golo Kante being able to disrupt Belgium’s counter-attacking strategy by sitting deep when Pogba and Matuidi go forward.
Pavard and Hernandez have peaked at the right time and their match ups with Meunier and Chadli in the wide areas will also be very interesting. France’s experience in midfield and upfront will see them through.