Semi-Final time at the World Cup and maybe the two best teams left in the competition will be facing off for a place in the final. My thoughts below.
FRANCE v BELGIUM – 10th July – St Petersburg
In a very different game to their round of 16 match against Argentina, France showed a real professional edge to beat Uruguay comfortably in the end to make the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup. They actually struggled in the early stages as the Uruguayans disrupted any attempts to build up some momentum in their play and at that stage during the first 30 minutes you worried for them if they went behind. However it was the French who took the lead from a set piece minutes before half time, Griezmann onto the head of Varane. It shows the spirit of the South Americans that they came on strong in the small amount of time there was before the interval forcing corners and free kicks. They were oh so close to equalising in the last minute of the first half but Hugo Lloris produced a fantastic save to keep his team ahead at the break. Deschamps men came out in the second half with much more purpose and dominated the game, eventually getting a second goal through the previously mentioned Antoine Griezmann, thanks to a horrific howler by goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, who basically let a shot which was hit straight at him right through his gloves and into the net. It was so soft the goalscorer didn’t even celebrate. From then on it was just a case of seeing the game out, which the French did superbly and for once their defence actually looked pretty solid. What if any difference injured Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani may have made in the game is by the by, France were worthy winners and their shutting out of Uruguay after a slow start was impressive. They were knocked out at this stage of the tournament in 2014 by an experienced Germany team who were very streetwise, now they are the ones in that position and have a chance to emulate the same glory the Germans did in Brazil. They most definitely have the resources.
Outstanding Belgium, there can be no other words after their 1-2 victory over Brazil.They have reached the semi-finals for the first time since 1986, and at that time the Red Devils were seen as the uninvited guest with powerhouses Argentina, France and Germany, in 2018 nobody is surprised when you look at the quality they have in their team. They deservedly bested the five time champions with a tactical masterclass. Martinez started with his saviours from the game against Japan, Fellaini and Chadli and pushed Kevin De Bruyne further up the pitch to play in a fluid front 3 alongside Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku. So whilst Brazil pushed on, the Belgian’s could break with their pace and craft. Their opening breakthrough was fortunate, an own goal by Fernandinho, which was karma for me as in the 2014 quarter final v Colombia he just spent it hacking players and a weak referee let him get away it, today was not his day. But then the second a brilliant breakaway from a Brazil corner, great work from Lukaku, the ball ended up at the feet of De Bruyne on the edge of the opposition’s box and he then rocketed a shot into the corner pass the despairing dive of Alisson in the Brazilian goal. After the interval they were put under intense pressure and were very lucky they did not concede a penalty early in the half, which would have changed the momentum even more towards Tite’s men, but Belgium had plenty of opportunities to extend their lead themselves but the final ball showed tired legs. Martinez eventually made changes, however Brazil did get a goal back with 15 minutes to go and actually created a couple of guilt edged chances to level, but that would have been unjust on the European side. Belgium had a game plan and they played it to perfection and 1-2 for me flattered their opponents. Now into St Petersburg for a blockbuster of a semi final against neighbours France, they know each other well – let the fun begin on Tuesday.
PREDICTION – What a game we hope for. France have not been brilliant in this tournament unless they have had to be (like when behind against Argentina and they stepped it up to devastating effect), but have now shown they can manage a game, with a superb controlled performance in their win over Uruguay to get to this stage. Belgium have arguably looked the best team in the whole competition, only against Japan did they show real vulnerability, but then still managed to find a way to win. As expected this will be tight, it is a tricky one to predict, but I have tipped France to win the World Cup so I am going to side with them to edge it, but it may take extra time. 1-1 after 90 minutes with Les Bleus to JUST sneak it during the additional 30 mins.
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