Belgium were not expected to make it this far; but France started Russia 2018 as one of the favourites, not because they are more talented but for the fact they had won the FIFA World Cup, once before.
But both countries are here now, with deeply talented players and the right notion of playing the game in an offensive manner. Will Roberto Martinez and his Belgian team continue to play on the break or will they deploy their talent to take a greater share of ball possession?
Will Didier Deschamps ditch Olivier Giroud and play Ousmane Dembele instead to add more speed to his attack? Belgium will be without their dependable right wingback, Thomas Meunier while France can throw Blaise Matuidi back into action after he served his one-match suspension.
Just as the countries are close geographically, so are their playing squads and managerial teams also close. France legend, Thierry Henry is Belgium’s assistant manager just as Belgium superstar, Eden Hazard, came to the world’s attention while playing for Lille in Ligue 1.
Head to head [Last 5]
Sun 07/06/15 FRI France 3 – 4 Belgium
Wed 14/08/13 FRI Belgium 0 – 0 France
Tue 15/11/11 FRI France 0 – 0 Belgium
Wed 18/02/04 FRI Belgium 0 – 2 France
Sat 18/05/02 FRI France 1 – 2 Belgium
Current Form [Last 5 matches]
|Belgium 3 – 0 Panama||France 2 – 1 Australia|
|Belgium 5 – 2 Tunisia||France 1 – 0 Peru|
|England 0 – 1 Belgium||Denmark 0 – 0 France|
|Belgium 3 – 2 Japan||France 4 – 3 Argentina|
|Brazil 1 – 2 Belgium||Uruguay 0 – 2 France|
Three duels to watch
Kevin de Bruyne v N’Golo Kante
This should be very interesting. Kante we all know for his indefatigable spirit and his never-tiring engine. But cast against the crafty and swift De Bruyne, the Chelsea midfielder will need Paul Pogba to play a disciplined game. If Pogba forgets himself and drifts too much away from Kante, the mismatch will spell danger for Les Bleus.
Nacir Chadli v Kylian Mbappe
With Belgium persisting with a 3-4-3 formation, Mbappe could get joy on the right flank with his speed and Nacir Chadli not as keen on defending as he is in attacking. That means Jan Vertonghen could be pulled away from his normal position thereby creating a gap through the middle for Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud.
Romelu Lukaku v Samuel Umtiti
Lukaku has shown he is not just a great goal scorer but also a keen goal creator. The Manchester United man has not scored in the last two matches but has played pivotal roles in goals that have been scored. His movement, power, and intelligence will need to be closely watched and matched by Umtiti, who must throw away any penchant for dallying.
Quotes to Ponder
“When I said in the past I was going to Russia only to win, maybe I was a bit arrogant. But the idea is that we need to think only about winning to maximise our chances on the pitch. – Kevin de Bruyne, Belgium Midfielder
“We will be ready and will adapt ourselves to Belgium’s organisation, whatever it is, due to Thomas Meunier’s absence. Belgium are not here by chance. – Didier Deschamps, France Manager
Stadium: The Saint Petersburg Stadium, locally known as the Krestovsky Stadium has nearly 65,000 seats. Designed by the Japanese architect Kisho Kurosawa in the shape of a spaceship, it has a retractable roof and its pitch is sliding, to keep it at a temperature of 15°C, even in winter. [Courtesy FIFA]
Referee in charge: The 41-year-old Turkish referee, Cuneyt Cakir, has handled two matches in Russia and shown nine yellow cards, no red cards and awarded one penalty kick.
World Cup fact: Belgium and France have played each other 74 times but just twice at World Cup tournaments.
Prediction: Belgium 3-2 France