All four countries that made it into the 2018 World Cup semifinal – Belgium, Croatia, England, and France – are very close; not just alphabetically, but in what they offer on the pitch.
It could be argued that talent-wise, the Three Lions of England are the least amongst the four, but they are suffused with youth and belief while the Les Bleus of France boast the youngest constellation of costly players.
Croatia boasts the savviest and most experienced while Belgium is blessed with arguably the most talented and diverse squad.
France v Belgium
Two fantastic teams blended together by youth and experience, but not in equal measures. Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane – France’s two center-backs are 24 and 24, while the three center-backs for Belgium – Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, and Vincent Kompany are 29, 31, and 32 respectively.
Offensively, the trio of Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, and Olivier Giroud cannot be said to be better than Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, and Kevin De Bruyne.
In the goalkeeping department, they are also very close as it is hard to choose between France’s Hugo Lloris and Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois.
On the managers’ part, France has more experience with Didier Deschamps. He was the France captain for their sole World Cup triumph in 1998 while the best Roberto Martinez has done is win the FA Cup with Wigan by beating Manchester City in the final of the 2013 edition.
Prediction – Very close but it looks likely that Belgium will triumph because of the know-how in their back line and in the attack.
Croatia v England
Both countries are chasing history – a chance to rewrite what has gone on before. England had their sole World Cup triumph in 1966 whereas Croatia got to the semifinal in 1998. For the Three Lions, it has been a change that is looking like a breath of fresh air.
England are current champions at U-17 and U-20 levels already and this would make the shift in policy a success if they snag the 2018 World Cup despite not being a top favourite when the tournament kicked off on June 14.
Croatia possesses arguably the best central midfielder in the world at present, in Luka Modric but they are almost bare elsewhere.
Can the midfielder, in tandem with Ivan Rakitic, plot England’s downfall? With the loss of right back, Sime Vrsaljko, Croatia are weakened at the back and Raheem Sterling, with his pace, could exploit (this)while Harry Kane will gobble up any scoring chance that shows up.
Prediction – Also very close but it looks likely two consecutive 120 minutes and the tension of penalty kicks will come back to haunt Croatia in this one.