The opening semi-final of the World Cup takes place in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday evening and it is shaping up to be a barnstormer of a game as Euro2016 finalists France take on an extremely talented Belgium side.
Both teams have eased into this semi-final in terms of completing all their matches in 90 minutes. France have been in front for the majority of the knockout stage while Belgium had that frantic 30 minutes against Japan.
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Two years ago we saw France show their worth in the knockout stages of the tournament before clamming up in the final and so far since the group stage of this event they have gone from strength to strength. They demolished Argentina much more than the scoreline suggested come the end and they were far too good for a disappointing Uruguay.
This may represent the toughest test thus far for France but having come out of the shell they were hiding in during the group stage they should be confident of progressing especially with the level of attacking talent they have in their ranks. On the flip side of that they are likely to be tested defensively so they need to hang tough.
There is no doubt that Belgium have ridden their luck at times in this tournament but they have made it through to the last four. Given all that has happened to them since the end of the group phase they could be forgiven for thinking that their name is on this trophy but for it to actually be on it they need two more good performances.
This Belgian side is as good, if not better, than anything in the tournament when they go on the attack and they are the leading scorers in the event to prove that, so if they can stay solid defensively then they know they have the goals in them to fire them further in the competition. They need to play with the same intensity they showed against Brazil though and not the sluggish, lethargic side that turned up for their first 3.5 matches.
France will be able to welcome Blaise Matuidi back into their side after the midfielder missed the quarter final win through suspension. That may be the only change for the French despite calls for Olivier Giroud to be dropped.
Belgium will be forced into a defensive shake up with Thomas Meunier out through suspension. Roberto Martinez could bring Dries Mertens back after he was left out in the win over Brazil last time out.
I’m expecting a good game here between two sides who are absolutely full of attacking talent and who could yet have vulnerabilities defensively which could make for a cracking semi-final for all of us neutrals.
I think the 5/6 on both teams to score is the best way to play this semi-final. The attacking players on show should see plenty of chances created even were both teams to change tact and adopt a cautious approach. The likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba can open any side up and both have men to finish chances. I would be surprised if both teams don’t score at some point across the 90 minutes.
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