The final four of World Cup 2018 features only European sides for the 5th time in the tournament’s history, and the first clash features the now-favourites France against the latest golden generation from Belgium.

France vs Belgium Semifinal Preview and Prediction

Of the four finalists, France have scored the least goals (9), kept the most clean sheets (3), attempted the least shots (56), and concede the least shots per match (8). Despite many concerns about their bland display in the group stage, Didier Deschamps’ men have appeared galvanized by their knockout stage run, looking impressive in attack in both matches, and albeit against a weakened Uruguay without Edinson Cavani, more formidable in defensive respects. They’re yet to beat a European side at this tournament though; in fact, their last win over a European team at a World Cup occurred in 2014’s group stage against Switzerland. The standout star has been youngster Kylian Mbappe, whose speed was a critical factor in the win over Messi’s Argentina. There’s been quietly efficient displays from N’Golo Kante, Paul Pogba, young fullback Benjamin Pavard and centre back Raphael Varane. Star player Antoine Griezmann has produced decent showings but has been largely unimpressive by his lofty standards.

Belgium, meanwhile, are without doubt the flashiest of the teams left in the tournament. Of the four finalists, Belgium are the only ones to have won all five of their matches outright. They also have accumulated the most goals (14), and the most goals from open play (11), have attempted the most shots (85), and have had the most shots on target (33) with the highest shooting accuracy (39%). Belgium’s defence has been the busiest of the four sides, conceding 14 shots per game, and Thibault Courtois having made 18 saves. They’ve also curiously managed to beat a team from nearly confederation in the tournament, having beaten sides from North America (Panama), Africa (Tunisia), Europe (England), Asia (Japan) and South America (Brazil). Their performances feature a couple of the real stars of the tournament, notably Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne, both of whom have been massively dangerous players to their opponents. Some great supporting performances from Lukaku, Januzaj, Fellaini, Meunier and Courtois have further progressed their prospects.

Fact of Interest:

  • 8 World Cup semifinals in total have gone to extra time, with 6 of those 8 coming since 1982. However, there has never been an occasion where extra time has been seen in a semifinal in two consecutive World Cups. By this trend, 2018 should not produce a semifinal that goes in extra time, since the Netherlands and Argentina contested their 2014 semifinal clash past the 90 minutes.
  • 5 World Cup semifinals in total have gone to penalties, with all 5 coming since 1982.
  • 12 World Cup semifinals in total have been decided by a single goal (excluding penalty shootouts). 8 of the last 10 semifinals (2 went to penalties) have been decided by a single goal.
  • Only on 4 occasions (1934, 1966, 1982 and 2006) have there been only European sides left in the semifinals. Italy won the tournament on 3 of those occasions, with England winning the other instance.
  • Both sides have scored more than 60% of their goals in the 2nd half of their 2018 World Cup matches.
  • Belgium have scored first in 4 of their 5 2018 World Cup matches, while France have scored first in all 5 of their matches.
  • Belgium overturned a 2-0 deficit in the Round of 16 to win 3-2 against Japan. France were behind for nearly 10 minutes against Argentina in their Round of 16 tie, coming back to win 4-3.
  • On the last occasion these sides made it to a World Cup semifinal, France beat Portugal but lost the final to Italy in 2006, while Belgium lost in 1986 to eventual winners Argentina.
  • France have won their last 2 World Cup semifinals (2-1 vs Croatia in 1998, 1-0 vs Portugal in 2006). They won their maiden World Cup title in 1998.
  • France and Belgium have met twice before in World Cups. The first occasion was a 3-1 win or the French in the first round of 1938. They would later meet in the 3rd place playoff in 1986, won by France 4-2 after extra time.
  • This is only Belgium’s 2nd World Cup semifinal, having lost 2-0 to a brace from Argentina’s Diego Maradona in 1986.
  • Group G is currently the only group to have both progressing teams featuring in a semifinal. This has happened in 7 previous World Cups where the semifinals have featured 2 sides paired together at the initial group stage (Brazil & Turkey, 2002; Brazil & Sweden, 1994; Italy & Poland, 1982; Italy & Argentina, 1978; Italy & Uruguay, 1970; Brazil & Czechoslovakia, 1962; Germany & Hungary, 1954). In all 7 cases, at least one side made it to the final, and in only one case (Italy in 1970) was one of these sides unable to win the entire tournament.

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Key Players and Tactical Considerations:

With the exception of their opening match against Australia where a 433 shape was used, Didier Deschamps has made extensive use of a 4231 system, with Olivier Giroud as the focal point man upfront. Apart from the experimental lineup against Denmark, the XI has remained largely predictable. Hugo Lloris has been relatively solid, ahead of Umtiti and Hernandez, who both represent the side of the defence where a fair amount of ambivalence exists in its productivity thus far. Varane and Pavard, by contrast, have been superb, and they’ll be especially crucial in managing the danger of Eden Hazard. France’s midfield pair has also shown great form, and Kante’s protection will be equally critical against the creative threat offer by Belgium’s attacking midfield, while Paul Pogba has counter balanced his teammate’s defensive solidity with his creative and attack-minded contributions in linking defence and attack. Kylian Mbappe has comfortably been France’s best player, and his speed and goal threat will be important to expose the underperforming Belgian defence. Antoine Griezmann, Blaise Matuidi and Giroud round off the likely starting XI with the latter still in search of a first goal in this World Cup.

Belgium made a significant change in system against Brazil, opting for a 433 shape, but what it lacked in possession it made up for in transitional efficacy. Coach Roberto Martinez remains with a problem as to who is best selected to play on the left-hand side of the field, but it isn’t beyond the Spaniard to elect for another start for Nacer Chadli, or a switch to bench options Carrasco or Dembele. The entire defence will be under the microscope, especially Jan Vertongen and Vincent Kompany, most likely to play of the left-hand side of defence, placing them directly in the firing line of Mbappe. Axel Witsel and Marouane Fellaini will be particularly integral to interfering with Kante and Pogba’s midfield threat, but the most critical players for a win for Belgium are on opposite ends of the pitch. Thibault Courtois will likely need to replicate the masterclass of saves and goalkeeping shown against Brazil, while De Bruyne, Hazard and Lukaku will need to best the French defence, likely focusing on the weaker performing side featuring Umtiti and Hernandez.

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Match Facts & Summary

  France Belgium
World Cup Base Moscow Moscow
2014 World Cup Finish Quarterfinal Quarterfinal
Head to Head Record Played 73, France 24 Wins, Belgium 30 Wins
Head to Head (World Cups Only) Played 2, France 2 Wins
Record in World Cup Semifinals Played 5, Won 2 Played 1, Won 0
Penalty Shootout Record Won 2 of 4 Won 1 of 1
Current Top Scorer Griezmann / Mbappe – both 3 goals in 5 matches Lukaku – 4 goals in 4 matches
Goals scored in First Half 3 5
Goals scored in Second Half 6 9

 

  France Belgium
Odds – Result 1.47 2.12
First Goalscorer Griezmann (5.00) Lukaku (4.27)
Odds – To Win World Cup 2.00 (favourite) 2.80 (3rd favourite)
Best Odds – Golden Boot Mbappe (19.00) Lukaku (7.50)
Best Odds – Golden Ball Mbappe (3.50) Hazard (4.00)
Semifinal decided by penalty shootout Yes – 4.06 No – 0.11

 

Our Prediction:

There’s a fair sentiment that squads win World Cups, and while neither of these sides have arguably leveraged the full extent of these squads, they both possess depth and critical weaknesses. The challenge Belgium have relies on the lack of international experience and the gap in quality between the starting XI and the bench. Then, there’s the threat of Mbappe in particular and the fact that his skill set could prove a considerable threat against an under-performing Belgian defence that, while not lacking talent, seems to still be inherently flawed systemically. France have become an efficient team in the knockout rounds, but still appear to be a little over reliant on set pieces for goals. That could play into free scoring Belgium, who will fancy their chances to punish France for any lack of creativity. That said, France have the right weapons to exploit the Belgian weaknesses on the left as well as players who intrinsically can handle the quick transitional football Belgian enjoyed showing in their displays vs Brazil and Japan. As long as those players find a way to contain the Belgian front 3, it’s hard to see past France reaching their first final since 2006.

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* Please note – odds mentioned above are subject to change, so always check the latest published odds to be fully certain before betting.

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