World Cup 2018: France, England Look To Spoil Belgium, Croatia’s Party
From 32, we are now down to four teams in Russia and if the past 26 days are any indication, this World Cup has been all about the neutrals.
Of the pre-tournament favourites, only France and Belgium survived the curse of ‘Russia 2018’ and England, who have been the perennial underachievers, are also among last four after 28 years. The fourth team to survive are Croatia who made their only semi-final appearance so far in at their debut outing in 1998.
But which team will stand on the podium on Sunday night? Are there more upsets in store? And will England’s ‘it’s coming home’ chants finally lead to victory dance with the trophy?
Here’s a look at the four countries who remain:
The French side has easily been the most consistent side right throughout the tournament and look good for a second title.
Yet to be defeated in the competition, France’s charge is being led by 19-year-old Mbappe. Coupled with Griezmann and Giroud, Didier Deschamps has an enviable attacking line at his disposal.
Right from the start Deschamps had the problem of plenty, which explains the tactical set-up of 4-3-3 in one match and 4-2-3-1 in the next.
At the back too, France is sorted with Varane, Umtiti and Pavard. Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, after the outing against Uruguay, will surely give the Belgium attack a tough time.
At the start of the tournament, the Belgian side was probably the strongest on paper. Now we are in the penultimate round in Russia and Belgium haven’t allowed the pre-tournament hype to get the better of them.
Dubbed the ‘Golden Generation’, the likes of Lukaku, Hazard and De Bruyne haven’t disappointed the fans. The midfield with Witsel or Fellaini might be a cause of concern for Roberto Martinez’s side. But as they showed in their last match, when required the Belgian squad can step up.
The Red Devils made life difficult for the Brazilians who found it difficult to equal Belgium’s tally despite taking shots 27 times.
Kompany, Vertonghen and Alderweireld have enough experience to keep the French attack at bay. With nine goal scorers in the squad, Belgium suffer from the similar problem of plenty, just like France.
Coming into the competition, for the first time in the new millennium England didn’t have any expectation riding on them. And as it turns out it has been a blessing in disguise for Southgate and his boys.
A very young squad and a relatively young Southgate have managed to break two of jinxes which troubled English football in the past. Against Colombia in the quarters, England beat them on penalties, thus becoming the first team in English history to win a match on penalties in the World Cup finals. It has also been 28 years since England reached the last four in Italy.
Everything is looking up for the ‘Three Lions’ with their 24-year-old captain Harry Kane leading from the front. The Tottenham forward has already scored six goals in the tournament and is leading the race for the Golden Boot.
If Kane is the hero on one-side of the pitch, goalkeeper Pickford has made sure the other half belongs to him. Pickford, the architect of England’s first win on penalties, has been like a wall in front of the goal in the last two matches. Both Kane and Pickford might end up deciding the fate of England in this tournament.
Trippier, who has been one of the best defenders in the tournament, along with Ashley Young, has done well and will continue to support the fluid system of play up front.
The way they owned one of the toughest groups of the tournament, Croatia has been one of the teams of the tournament.
With a best-in-the-business midfield, the Zlatko Dalic side will certainly fancy their chances to do better than their 1998 outing, where they stumbled in the semis.
Modric and Rakitic are the lynchpins of the side and along with Perisic and Rebic on the wings are capable of taking down any fullback worth their salt. Mario Mandzukic upfront will need to up the ante and score more goals, especially after the last two matches where Croatia had to wait until the penalties to take home the match.
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