By 90Min
July 09, 2018

European super powers France and Belgium are set to face off against one another in a mouth-watering World Cup semi-final, after they both dispatched South American opponents in their respective quarter-final clashes last Friday.

France have steadily improved as the tournament has progressed and are now starting to justify the hype surrounding their presence at this year's tournament. They have kept three clean sheets from five matches and been largely untested thus far - even against the likes of Argentina and Uruguay.

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Belgium have finally turned up at a major tournament and have seemingly put their disappointing performances at the 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championships behind them. They are the only side left in the competition to have won all of their matches, including a magnificent display against Brazil in the quarter finals.

Both sides will be on cloud nine after their previous victories, so this one is poised to be a clash of epic proportions.


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France did raise a number of questions during the group phase of the competition over whether they were going to be able to live up to the significant hype surrounding their star studded squad.

Didier Deschamps side ground out narrow victories against Australia and Peru before playing out a dull 0-0 draw with Denmark - the only goalless draw of the tournament thus far. France topped Group D and were rewarded with a tie against Argentina, who they defeated 4-3 in arguably one of the games of the tournament. Kylian Mbappe stole the show, scoring twice in a breath taking display.

France then brushed aside Uruguay 2-0, earning their third clean sheet from five matches in the process. Goals from Raphael Varane and Antoine Griezmann proved to be the difference, earning France a semi-final spot for the first time since 2006.

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Belgium have been superb at this year's tournament, finally dispelling the idea that they are a group of talented players who are unable to work effectively as a team. 

The Red Devils breezed past Panama and Tunisia as expected before earning a third group win against England with a reasonably comfortable 1-0 victory. Their World Cup run looked to be coming to a premature end after falling two goals behind to Japan but Roberto Martinez was able to inspire a spectacular comeback to win the match 3-2.

In their quarter-final encounter against Brazil, Belgium were imperious. Martinez got his tactics spot on, dishing out a masterclass in counter-attacking football, winning the match 2-1. They were the beneficiaries of a Fernandinho own-goal before Kevin De Bruyne lashed in one of the best goals of the tournament after a rapid counter attack. 


Classic Encounter


France and Belgium have faced off against each-other 73 times in their history but it may come as a surprise to find out that these two sides have not faced each other in a competitive match since 1986. 

That match was during the World Cup in Mexico and was a third place playoff after both sides had been knocked out at the Semi-Final stage. France were defeated by West Germany whilst Belgium fell victim to the brilliance of Diego Maradona and Argentina.

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It was a back and forth match, demonstrating the fact that third place playoffs tend to be very open affairs where both side's throw caution to the wind with very little to lose. Jan Ceulemans opened the scoring for Belgium 11 minutes in, before France levelled with a strike from Jean-Marc Ferreri. France then took the lead on the brink of half time through Jean-Pierre Papin.


France looked set to be heading towards a bronze medal before Nico Claesen brought Belgium back level, forcing the game into extra time. France then excelled in the extra 30 minutes and goals from Bernard Genghini and Manuel Amoros led France to third place.


Predicted Line-Ups

France (4-4-2): Lloris, Hernandez, Umtiti, Varane, Pavard, Kante, Pogba, Mbappe, Matuidi, Griezmann, Giroud


Belgium (3-4-2-1): Courtois, Alderweireld, Kompany, Vertonghen, Chadli, Fellaini, Witsel, Carrasco, De Bruyne, Hazard, Lukaku


Predictions


Calling this one is immensely difficult. Both sides are coming off of impressive quarter-final performances and there is a sense that the winner of the tournament will probably come from this tie.

France have the luxury of having a fully fit side and Blaise Matuidi is back from suspension after missing out against Uruguay. Antoine Griezmann finally got going in his last match and picked up his first goal from open play, while Kylian Mbappe has been electric thus far.

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Belgium will be hampered by the fact their first choice wing-back Thomas Meunier is suspended after picking up his second yellow card of the competition against Brazil. He has been crucial to Belgium's success and he will be a big loss for the Red Devils. Yanick Carrasco is likely to fill in for him, meaning France are likely to exploit his unfamiliarity with the role. 

It's going to be a thrilling match no doubt and don't be surprised if this one ends up going the full distance.

Prediction: France 2-1 Belgium

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