Goal feast expected in World Cup battle CALM BEFORE THE STORM . . . French stars Paul Pogba (left) and Raphael Varane pose for a photo on their way to St Petersburg where they will take on Belgium in the FIFA World Cup semi-finals tonight. - Mailonline

MOSCOW. – Considering the attacking strength of France and Belgium, there’s potential for a goal-fest when the European neighbours meet in the World Cup semi-finals tonight.
The match kicks-off at 8pm.

While defensive doubts have arisen – against Argentina and Japan respectively – both have stood firm, with Belgium now enjoying their best major tournament since Mexico 1986.

The Red Devils will be without a key – if less flashy – part of their puzzle against France, with Thomas Meunier picking up a second booking prior to them being wiped for the semi-finals.

Les Bleus will be buoyed by the return of Blaise Matuidi, after sitting out a suspension of his own.
There was less at stake the last time the teams last went head-to-head at the World Cup, a 4-2 victory for France in the third-place match in 1986.

That was the last competitive match between the two countries but there have been eight international friendlies since.
Belgium won two of those, including the last one: an exhibition three years ago at Stade de France when the Belgians took a three-goal lead five minutes into the second half and held on to win 4-3.

With the second-youngest roster at the World Cup, France has shown no fear and advanced to its first World Cup semi-final since 2006 led by 19-year-old forward Kylian Mbappe and a pair of inexperienced attacking fullbacks in Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez.

“We’re not scared of anyone,” Pavard said. “We’ve been confident from the start and we’re not asking any questions of ourselves.”

Coach Didier Deschamps, who was captain when France won the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championship, has instilled a steely mentality. “He motivates the troops with strong words,” Pavard said. “We’re ready to go to war with him.”

Deschamps made bold decisions to start Pavard on the right and Lucas Hernandez on the left. The pair, both 22, have only 20 international appearances between them but are playing with good composure.

In Belgium, there were doubts about Roberto Martinez’s ability to transfer the country’s individual talent into a collective force. He has Thierry Henry as his assistat.

“He’s given the team the desire to attack,” French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet said of Henry’s influence on the Belgian team.
“The forwards go to see him. He’s held in high esteem.”

Martinez’s tactics have stood out, too. With Belgium trailing Japan 2-0 in the round of 16, Martinez replaced two wide players with two midfielders and they both scored.

Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and French No. 1 Hugo Lloris could be busy. Lloris has been criticised during the past year after errors for France and Tottenham. Star forward Eden Hazard is known for his attacking prowess, but he also is an outlet for Belgium’s defence. Hazard runs at pace and cuts inside.

Because of his quick feet, change of direction and exquisite close control, he is difficult to tackle and this often draws a foul.
While Giroud has yet to score at this World Cup, his ability to hold the ball up suits France’s system and allows Mbappe to make runs down the right flank. It also gives Antoine Griezmann space to roam.

“I try to create gaps for my teammates,” Giroud said. “It’s my unselfish side.”
He needs one goal to move ahead of France great Zinedine Zidane. They are tied on fourth overall with 31. – AFP.

You Might Also Like

Comments