Tue 10 Jul 2018, 09:15
We preview the key players and sub-plots ahead of the World Cup semi-finals...
France vs Belgium
France are expected to make one change to the side that beat Uruguay with Blaise Matuidi returning from suspension. He’ll join Kylian Mbappe, who has three goals in Russia, and Antoine Griezmann as part of a trident of attacking midfielders that has proved so potent in recent years, as highlighted by Griezmann’s record of seven goals in his last six knockout matches for France. Striker Olivier Giroud has yet to score in Russia, much like in 1998 when Stephane Guivarc'h led the line for Les Bleus and failed to score a goal.
Guivarc'h kept a certain Thierry Henry out of the XI in 1998, and the former Arsenal striker now finds himself an adversary to France as Belgium’s assistant coach. Henry helped Belgium find a winning formula against Brazil and he and Roberto Martinez will be tempted to maintain continuity. They will make at least one change because Thomas Meunier is suspended and further forward, management must decide whether Kevin De Bruyne or Romelu Lukaku should play in the central attacking role.
Croatia vs England
England fans will remember a dejected Steve McClaren under an umbrella at Wembley in 2007 when Croatia ended English hopes of Euro 2008 qualification. Dubbed the ‘Wally with a Brolly” by the tabloids, McClaren was replaced by Fabio Capello who gained revenge with 5-1 and 4-1 wins over the Croats in 2010 World Cup qualifying. But the current Croatian team is a different beast. Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric are the best midfield combination in Russia, while Andrej Kramaric is a goal threat from his three-quarter role. At the other end of the pitch, Croatia will be hoping that inspirational goalkeeper Danijel Subasic is declared fit.
England cruised past Sweden in the quarter-finals and with the exception of playing a second-string Belgium haven’t been tested. Against a talented and solid Croatian team, Gareth Southgate’s main dilemma is whether or not he should include an extra midfielder such as Eric Dier to stifle Croatia’s midfield. Raheem Sterling missed several opportunities against Sweden and could be the one to make way if Southgate chooses to bolster his midfield. Harry Kane is the tournament’s leading scorer with six goals - two more than next best Lukaku - and will be eager to bag another goal to underline his credentials as the golden boot favourite.
Antoine Griezmann’s France and Kevin De Bruyne’s Belgium go head-to-head in Tuesday’s World Cup semi-final at 20:00, while Harry Kane will star for England against Luka Modric’s Croatia on Wednesday at 20:00.
Stream both World Cup semi-finals on DStv Now on your mobile or your laptop while you're on the go. And if you missed any of the last-eight action, catch up with an eight-minute highlights package.