Blink and you’ll miss it; that’s what it’s felt like with this fantastic World Cup and somehow we are already at the semi final stage, with only 4 matches remaining.
This round features a mouth-watering match up between France and Belgium this evening, followed by Croatia vs England on Wednesday (As if you needed reminding).
So what can we expect from the semi finals?
France vs. Belgium
After a shaky start, Les Bleus’ performances have got progressively better throughout the tournament and their quarter final victory against Uruguay was filled with both professionalism and flair. They now take on a much-fancied Belgian side, whose coaching staff includes France’s record goalscorer, Thierry Henry, which will certainly add to the drama.
Speaking of strikers, in Olivier Giroud, Didier Deschamps has an unsung hero, who has been extremely effective in holding the ball up for the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe. Although he hasn’t yet netted, his importance to this French side should not be underestimated.
Yet, if France are to progress to a third World Cup final, then it is likely that Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann will be their key figure at the Krestovsky Stadium tonight. He looked extremely sharp against Uruguay and has scored seven goals in his last six knockout matches at the World Cup and European Championship. He’ll certainly cause problems for Belgium’s defensive trio of Kompany, Alderweireld and Vertonghen.
The last time these two sides met, Belgium emerged 4-3 winners, with Marouanne Fellaini scoring twice, as well as Eden Hazard.
Like France, Belgium also staked their claim for World Cup glory in the quarter finals, knocking out pre-tournament favourites Brazil with an impressive performance. They’ve been very good throughout the whole tournament and their 14 goals in the first five World Cup games is the most at this stage since Brazil in 2002..
Fancy a goal fest tonight? Back over 3.5 Goals: 13/5
Although he didn’t score on Friday, Romelu Lukaku is still very much in the race for the Golden Boot and his physical attacking presence could be the key to unlocking the central partnership of Varane and Umtiti. What’s more, he’s been directly involved in 20 goals in his last 13 games for Belgium (17 goals, 3 assists).
Croatia vs. England
Going into the last sixteen, Croatia had arguably been the most consistent side in the competition, producing a series of convincing performances, which suggested they could take on anyone.
However, a rather attritional last 16 match against Denmark, and a dramatic quarter final encounter with the hosts, exposed a few weaknesses within the Croatian outfit. What’s more, they’ve now been taken to penalties in their previous two fixtures, so England may enjoy a physical advantage over them.
Couple that with their vastly experienced Goalkeeper, Danijel Subasic, being labelled an injury doubt, England will see this as a wonderful opportunity to progress to the final. But write off Croatia at your peril – this is a Golden Generation and also a last chance for a number of their superstars, so they won’t give up a final place lightly. No one has flown the Croatian flag more patrotically than Luka Modric and he’s been his nation’s talisman for a number of year – can he inspire them to victory?
For the first time since 1990, England are in a World Cup semi final and the hopes of the nation rest on the shoulders of this youthful and exciting side. Gareth Southgate has barely put a foot wrong and has got the best out of some surprise stars, such as Kieran Trippier, Harry Maguire and Jesse Lingard – so, is this the year England reach only their second World Cup final?
Fancy Harry Maguire to deliver the goods again? Back him to score anytime: 35/4
Captain Harry Kane has scored with each of his six shots on target within the competition, midfield general, Jordan Henderson has put in a few monumental shifts, the most recent of which saw him run 2km more than any other England player, and Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has produced some brilliant saves – it’s this kind of form that has taken England so far.
The waiting is over and now all the talking must be done on the pitch…