FIFA WORLD CUP 2018 – France vs Belgium PREVIEW
And we’re into the Final Four. The Semi finals! It’s a match between two countries who are neighbours and with a World Cup Final on the line, that neighbourhood turns into a rivalry for 2 hours. France are looking to repeat the magic of 1998 while Belgium are looking to take the step they failed to take in 1986 and reach their first world cup final. Incredible talent on show involving Griezmann, Hazard, Mbappe, De Bruyne, Lukaku, Pogba and many more top quality players. It’s a legacy making game and these players know what this means, expect everything left on the line in an amazing encounter between two world class teams.
It’s been a hell of a ride for France so far in this tournament. They’ve pretty much been recreating their Euro 2016 campaign when they started off slow and picked it up in the knockouts. There’s something about this side turning it up whenever the stakes get higher. A win here for France would put them into a 3rd world cup Final in the last 20 years being the winners in 98 and runners up in 06. In this tournament as mentioned already France started off slow. They topped their group but they didn’t play the way their fans expected with two boring 2-1 and 1-0 wins against Australia and Peru and finally finishing the group stages with an awful 0-0 draw against Denmark, France didn’t look like a team that could truly contend. However all of that changed come knockout stages. France beat Argentina 4-3 putting in their best attacking performance of the tournament and then they beat the best defensive side in Uruguay 2-0. France have really stepped it up in the knockouts, their attacking display has improved massively and they seem to have fixed every bit of weakness they had before the knockout stages. Just in general as a team France have improved as the tournament has gone on.
It’s tough to pick any player that has truly stood out for France because they all have been solid. Pogba and Kante has been running the midfield, Griezmann has picked up goal scoring form, Mbappe has been up and down and their backline alongside Lloris has done a solid job even the two full backs who were considered a weakness have played well. France have also now been tipped the world cup favourites after Brazil have been knocked out. The positives are all there for France, but the question still stands if they can go all the way and the way they have started to play recently you’d have to give them a pretty good chance.
Just like their opponents, Belgium have had quite a ride in this tournament so far. So far Belgium still hold a 100% win percentage beating every team after 90 minutes. It seems like Belgium’s golden generation have finally arrived after eliminating what was the favourites Brazil. Belgium have clicked at the right time, they’ve shown everyone that they’re a team and have overcome any type of adversity they’ve faced so far in this tournament. To summarise Belgium’s tournament they topped their group which involved Panama, Tunisia and England beating Panama 3-0, Tunisia 5-2 and England 1-0 with both sides using their B team which put Belgium in this tougher side of the bracket. However, in R16 Belgium looked like heading out when they went 0-2 down to Japan with 30 minutes to go. However, thanks to Martinez making the right changes and the team overcoming that adversity winning 3-2, Belgium managed to advance to the quarter finals. These tactical changes carried over into the Brazil game as Martinez stayed with the team that finished against Japan and it paid off again. With Mertens benched and KDB further forward, Belgium’s attack was pretty much unstoppable in the first half giving them a 2-0 lead. Belgium conceded with 20 minutes to go, however they once again overcame adversity by holding on thanks to Brazil wasting some great chances and Courtois proving why he’s regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the world.
In this tournament, we’ve clearly seen that Belgium have grown up as a team, they don’t just have individual talent, they have a true team with players who are willing to make it work together. Belgium’s best strength you’d have to say has been their attack, especially Hazard Lukaku and De Bruyne. They have been absolutely sensational. Belgium have also seemed to have fixed their full back weakness by dropping Carrasco and their midfield is much more solid with Fellaini and Witsel playing together. Also Courtois has been tremendous in goal. We’ve seen them put in a much more of a solid performance against Brazil and they weren’t as leaky at the back as they were against Tunisia and Japan. Now that Belgium have broken through against a side like Brazil, you’d have to give them just as much of a chance as France have. Belgium are tipped 2nd favourites out of the remaining teams so if they win this game, they’ll be the favourites to win the Final. It’s a huge opportunity for Belgium.
Let’s begin with France. The French of course love to play quick attacking football by opening teams up with their passing and movement, especially when Pogba Griezmann Giroud and Mbappe get on the ball, they love to play one two passing with movement to get around defenders. We’ve seen France be able to play gritty football too, just look at how they grinded out results against their group stage opponents. However, we don’t expect France to play gritty football, they’re coming up against a side who are just as talented and the mindset will surely be to just go at them, especially given the fact that Belgium’s defence is still a little suspect regardless of the improvements against Brazil. In terms of team news, France get Matuidi back from suspension and he’s expected to slot back in for Tolisso. France should have their two DM’s in Kante and Matuidi setting Pogba free to join up attacks. Meanwhile at the back there is a little injury problem with Umtiti who is dealing with knee pain, but he is expected to play. In case the worst happens France have either veteran Rami or youngster Kimpembe to choose from to fill in Umtiti’s place if he can’t play. Expect France to control possession in this game because their midfield is more possession based than Belgium’s. The keys for France is to let their front 3 along with Pogba play with freedom, continue to have passing and movement to open up Belgium’s defence and they must run at the Belgium’s full backs, especially Mbappe. France must watchout for those Belgian counter attacks with Hazard Lukaku and de Bruyne because they are deadly but that’s why they have Matuidi and Kante in midfield to help their defenders to deal with Belgium’s breakaways. Full backs Pavard and Lucas will have to deal with Hazard and de Bruyne for the most part which is another key battle for France, because although these full backs have played well in the knockouts you’d still have to point that out as the biggest worry and they can’t allow themselves to be exposed there because Hazard and de Bruyne are absolutely world class.
Belgium are one of the most exciting teams in this tournament the way they play. They love to play attacking football, whether it’s possession based attacking football or if they decide to play on counter attacks like against Brazil. Belgium in general just love to play end to end football simply because their attack is insanely talented. You can expect them to be a more of a defensive side in this game, but they will not just sit back, whenever they get the ball expect them to break with their rapid counters like we saw in the previous game. Martinez has really had a solid tournament as a coach, made the right changes when Belgium’s tournament was hanging in the balance, they have more solidity in midfield now with Fellaini and Witsel together which freed up de Bruyne to attack but dropped Mertens who had to sacrifice. Also Chadli has taken up starting position over Carrasco who may have to come back into the lineup due to suspension to Meunier which should move Chadli to the right side. Belgium’s lack of full backs is really turning into a massive weakness because with Meunier out and no actual left back, Belgium have not one actual full back available coming up against France and that is something that is a massive worry and this is where the two DM’s in Fellaini , Witsel and three CB’s Kompany, Vertonghen and Aldeiweireld will have to come through, they must help protect the both sides while doing their defensive duties. The keys for Belgium is attack French left backs regardless of their good form, its something Belgium have to try to expose with Hazard and KDB, Lukaku needs to play like a bully and Belgium must be good on counters and in general they just need their big boys to step up once again. Defensively, they must protect both sides, they have enough bodies to do so and their attacking players might have to get back too to help, because if they start leaving Carrasco against Mbappe or Chadli against Griezmann on an island it will be curtains. So to summarise the big boys have to show up going forward and at the back, they gotta protect the wing backs, it’d also be great if Courtois put in the same type of performance as in the last game. Just in general, Belgium need to work well as a team.
It is a very tough game to predict. It’s literally a 50/50 game. Talent wise Belgium match up with France just as well and form wise they’re playing just as well as each other. Expect an attacking end to end game of football here, there’s really no reason for either side to not go for it because it’s a ticket to the world cup final and these players might never get another chance like this. Expect a lot of intensity in this game and we could very well see extra time and penalties. There will be goals for sure, we’d be linked to picking a 2-2 draw, but wouldn’t be surprised if one of these sides stole a 3-2 win. Expect every star to show up and show out and if we were to pick a winner we’ll give Belgium the slight edge. It seems like destiny for them to go all the way, especially with the momentum they have now that they beat Brazil.
ODDS – Decimal
France Win (90 mins) – 2.55
Draw (90 mins) – 3.25
Belgium Win (90 mins) – 3.10
To Qualify – France 1.72 – Belgium 2.10
KICK OFF – 10th July 2018 – 7pm UK Time