If you’ve not been following the 2018 FIFA World Cup, now would be a good time to jump on the bandwagon. We are down to the final four teams who have slayed giants and grinded narrow wins to get where they are today.
France Tournament favourites France have now reached the World Cup semi-finals for the sixth time in their illustrious footballing history.
Even during the quarter finals, the French team looked confident on the ball, and the players were cohesive for the most part. The energy levels displayed by them could have been better though, as they seemed far too relaxed at times. France did have some help as Cavani was not on Columbia’s team sheet, and even then the South American’s physical and combative style of play caused the French some problems.
Advantages The defensive pairing of Umtiti and Varane is relatively young and new. Despite their youth, they have repaid the faith placed in them and have only conceded 4 goals in 5 matches. Supplemented by Pavard and Hernandez, this backline is lightning quick and reliable. Not something very common amongst an entire defensive unit. Did I mention that 2 out of the 9 goals scored this campaign were contributed by the defenders?
It’s almost unfair that Pogba and Kante are playing together in the same national team, and they’ve gotten the hang of operating alongside each other as well. You have one man who can single handedly outrun and outmuscle entire midfields on his own, and then you have a creative genius who can power his way through others whenever he feels like it. It’s very hard to envision this duo getting overrun or outplayed by any other pairing.
Most defenders don’t fancy getting into a footrace with pacey strikers, let alone Kylian Mbappe. The teenager’s olympian speed is his greatest strength and, as we have seen, he is not afraid to use it. Time and again, he has blitzed past opponents, leaving them chasing his shadow or taking a yellow card for bringing him down illegally. With 3 goals so far this tournament, he will be looking to add to that tally with his sublime finishing and superspeed.
Room for Improvement Was it just me, or did Griezmann seem to have his focus elsewhere during the Uruguay match. He had an assist (which looked like his only good pass in the game) and one goal (which, lets be honest, was a fluke). His overall play was sloppy with passes going astray and uncompleted. France’s joint top scorer will need to be at his peak when he faces Belgium, because he isn’t going to get any favours from Vincent Kompany and friends.
Belgium One of the tournament’s dark horses have made it to the semi-finals after 30 years. The Red Devils played a superb counter-attacking game against Brazil to devastating effect. They may not have seen much of the ball with 43% possession, but the quality of their passing and movement had the Seleção on the back foot more times than they would have cared for.
Advantages Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was plenty busy during the match, saving 8 out of the 9 shots. There was little he could do about the free header gifted to Renato Augusto, but he definitely pulled some top drawer saves to carry his country through to the next round.
The bedrock of Belgium’s defense is made up of four players at peak form: Kompany, Alderweireld, Fellaini and Witsel. The central defenders have formed a strong partnership and understanding, whilst the midfield pairing has managed to contain some of the world’s best playmakers. With 10 blocks and 41 clearances against Brazil, you could rely on this group of players to shackle and keep out the world’s best attackers with the Devil’s trident. A formation consisting of three deadly edges – each designed to inflict a unique experience of pain, power and precision.
First on the list we have Lukaku, the tireless powerhouse who could bulldoze past defenders as well as finish off a chance in the box. His ability to hold up the ball offers his teammates space and inroads into the opponents goal, and when he isn’t doing that he makes for an ideal target man in the penalty area.
Next we have De Bruyne, a player blessed with speed, vision and the ability to execute a perfect pass or a long ranged precision strike. The goal he scored against Brazil showed what happens when teamwork and talent comes full circle.
Lastly, and possibly the most dangerous, on this list is Eden Hazard. Belgium’s captain and main playmaker is almost always the first person to receive the ball when free – that speaks volumes of his responsibility and the trust his team puts in him. He has scored 2 goals and has registered 2 direct assists in the campaign so far. However, for anyone who has been following his performances this World Cup, you’d know that the numbers don’t do the man any justice.
Room for Improvement The Belgian fullbacks and wingers are sufficient to say the least. They’re not exactly the weak links in the team, but they are susceptible to lapses. That being said, the biggest strength of this national team is their synergy, work rate and overall team spirit.
Catch France VS Belgium on the 11th of July at 2am +8 GMT!