World Cup 2018: Semi-Finals Preview
France advanced to the semi-finals of the World Cup for the first time since 2006 with a 2-0 victory over Uruguay on Friday, while Belgium beat Brazil by two goals to one to set up a last-four clash with their neighbours.
England are in the semi-finals of a World Cup for the first time in 28 years following their 2-0 success against Sweden at the weekend, with Croatia joining them after a penalty shoot-out triumph over hosts Russia.
Let’s just jump straight into it and take a closer look at the World Cup 2018 semi-finals.
France vs Belgium
Didier Deschamps’ side have not really sparkled so far in Russia, with even their 4-3 win against Argentina owing more to their opponents’ ineptitude than their own attacking brilliance.
It is entirely natural for spectators to presume that a side containing the talents of Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann would be capable of delivering some scintillating showings at a major tournament
But Didier Deschamps is a cautious manager and he has hitherto placed an emphasis on keeping things tight at the back. With the notable exception of the Argentina game, such an approach has not produced the best spectacle, but a central defensive duo of Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti – protected by the imperious N’Golo Kante – has been excellent thus far.
Belgium were much more exciting to watch in the group stage, where they dispatched of Panama (3-0), Tunisia (5-2) and England (1-0), albeit after both teams heavily rotated their starting XIs in the latter clash. Roberto Martinez’s men had to come from two goals down to beat Japan in the round of 16, before producing a fantastic first-half performance in the 2-1 triumph over Brazil.
Belgium certainly rode their luck in the second period against the Selecao, but a switch in shape from Martinez – who moved from a 3-4-2-1 formation to more of a 4-3-1-2 against the five-time world champions paid dividends. The Red Devils still left space for Brazil in their own half, however, and that could prove costly if they do the same here.
Expect France to grind out another victory here, with goals likely to be at a premium despite the array of gifted forwards available to Deschamps and Martinez. A Les Bleus win in a game featuring fewer than 2.5 goals could be the best bet (5.00).
Croatia vs England
After winning their first ever penalty shoot-out on foreign soil against Colombia in the round of 16, the Three Lions booked their place in the last four with a comfortable defeat of the Swedes. Yet another set-piece goal proved pivotal as Harry Maguire’s header from a corner broke the deadlock in the first half, before Dele Alli put the game beyond Janne Andersson’s men after nodding home a cross at the back post.
England’s mastery of set-plays is certainly pleasing from a coaching point of view, but it is a little concerning that they are still struggling to create clear-cut opportunities from open play. Being afforded a little more space against Croatia could help, particularly as Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling all excel at making dynamic movements out of possession.
Croatia required penalties to get past Denmark in the last 16, and progressed to the semi-finals by the same method after a 2-2 draw with Russia. Zlatko Dalic’s charges were again not at their best against opponents who looked to make life difficult by sitting deep and packing men behind the ball, although Luka Modric turned in a superb display to drive his team forward.
Croatia have not yet been able to replicate their group phase performances in the knockout rounds, but they deserve credit for finding a way to advance nonetheless. There is a great deal of attacking variety in this team, but it would be wise for Dalic’s side to focus on controlling possession as much as possible against England.
This is a tough match to call with both teams pretty evenly matched, but Croatia’s superior midfield options could get them over the line. Back the Vatreni to qualify for the final in Moscow on Wednesday night (2.30).
By Greg Lea
After many years of sports writing with emphasis on football, including a stint at Sky Sports, Greg is here to help you with betting tips. Follow him on Twitter @greglea to get the latest updates before placing your bets.