France take on Belgium in a mouth-watering World Cup semi final match tomorrow late evening at the Saint Petersburg Stadium in Russia. Both the teams came through beating difficult opponents in their respective quarterfinal matches. France dominated play against Uruguay from the word go and beat them 2-0 in almost a one sided affair. Rapahel Varane gave the lead after he scored from a superb galncing header in the first half and in the second half Antoine Griezmann increased the lead when his shot was spilled over by Uruguayan keeper Muslera into his own net. Belgium had a more tougher opponent in Brazil whom they beat by 2-1 in the quarterfinals. Belgium took the lead in the 13th minute with a Fernandinho own goal and De Bruyne increased the lead in the 31st minute with a scorching low drive past Brazil keeper Allison.Brazil pulled one back late through Renato Augusto but in vain. France and Belgium have played each other 62 times before with France winning in 19 and Belgium in 27 occasions. Although Belgium has won majority of the matches, France hold an upper hand in FIFA World Cup tournament. France trounced Belgium in both the occasions they faced in 1938 and 1986 respectively. Both the teams have evolved as the teams progressed in the tournament and will be full of confidence. It is only the second time after 1986, that Belgium has made it through to the last four. Let’s now quickly do a preview of France vs Belgium semifinal match and find out their team news,strategies and team formations they are likely to opt for this game.
Team News- France sleep walked through the group stages by scrapping through wins over Australia and Peru and playing out a boring draw with Denmark in the group stages. When it looked they were on the verge off being written of by the bookies as World Cup favourites, they picked up their game just at the right moment and destroyed a star studded Argentina and Uruguay in pre-quarters and quarter finals respectively. Coach Deschamps transformed a very young team to a more matured established team who can be world beaters.He likes to field a 4-2-3-1 team formation in almost all the matches. Skipper and star goalkeeper Hugo Lloris has been pretty solid throughout the tournament and has made some fine stops in his last outing against the Uruguayans. The young defensive quartet has exceeded all expectations with Hernandez,Umtiti,Varane and Pavard all having a splendid tournament so far. In central midfield Kante has been as usual in excellent form with his superb ball distribution and breaking up play of opponents. Matuidi is expected to return from suspension to add more solidity in the midfield and is expected to replace Tolisso. Paul Pogba will be given a free role in the midfield to add more creativity in the final third. A lot will be expected from the inform striking duo of Mbappe and Griezmann.Both of them are amongst goals and are expected to add more to their individual tally. Giroud will continue in his number 9 role.
Strategy- Coach Deschamps’ main focus for this game would be to control the midfield and disrupt the build up play down the middle of De Bruyne,Witsel and Hazard. Kante has to closely mark De Bruyne and nullify his creative forward passes.France will try to attack down the flanks through Mbappe and Griezmann. France’s formidable attacking trio will surely continue their great understanding in the opponent’s box. Deschamps will expect Pogba to contribute more in regard to creativity going forward.
Predicted Starting Lineups
France (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Hernandez, Varane, Umtiti, Pavard; Kante, Pogba; Matuidi,Griezmann,Mbappe;Giroud.
Team News- Roberto Martinez’s tenure as Belgium’s Coach began with a 2-0 loss to Spain and immediately skepticism crept in as to whether he will be able to transform Belgium’s individual talent to a collective force. But since that loss to Spain, Martinez’s men are undefeated in 23 games scoring more than 78 goals i.e. an average of more than 3 goals every match. In this edition of World Cup alone they have scored 14 goals, the most by any team. He tweaks his strategy and team formation based on opponents gameplay. When they were trailing in the round of 16 match against Japan, he replaced two of his wide players with midfielders and they both scored. Against Brazil in the quarter finals, he changed his usual formation of 3-4-2-1 to 4-3-3. He played tall and stronger players like Chadli,Fellani and Witsel in the center of the park in order to make his team’s midfield more compact and break the build up play of the opponents down the middle. Goalkeeper Thirbaut Courtouis has been phenomenal under the sticks. His display against Brazil will be long remembered bt the football fraternity. Thimas Meunier will miss the match with a suspension and Thomas Vermaelen will replace him in the defense.Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen will have their task cut out in marking the fleet footed Mbappe and Griezmann. Thomas Meunier has had a brilliant tournament so far in the right fullback position and almost nullified a briiliant Brazillian Neymar in the last match. De Bruyne and Hazard’s understanding and interplay between each other will be crucial for Belgium to break open France’s defense. Both look to be in red hot form. Romelu Lukaku has not troubled the scorers in his last three matches and will be desperate to find the back of the net against France.
Strategy- It remains to be seen whether the master tactician Martinez again changes his team formation against France or not. If not, then he will probably stick with the same winning combination that he fielded against Brazil. Belgium’s vulnerability in the defense has been highlighted in the last two games against Japan and Brazil where they could have conceded more goals. In order to arrest that Martinez will field a robust midfield in Fellani,Chadli and Witsel. The mesmeric combination of Eden Hazard with De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku upfront has given a much needed confidence boost to the Belgium team. They have been so incisive and lethal upfront that they can open apart any defense at will.
Predicted Starting Lineups
Belgium (4-3-3): Courtois; Ventronghen, Kompany, Vermaelen , Alderweireld; Chadli, Witsel, Fellani ; Hazard, Lukaku, De Bruyne.
My prediction: France 2-3 Belgium