The first of the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 semi-finals is just moments away from kicking off. Belgium ans France lock horns in Saint Petersburg for the opportunity to advance to the final on Sunday. Both sides are loaded with talent. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the key match-ups:
Can Kante and Matuidi protect French defense?
I think this is the key question ahead of this fixture. Belgium boast three standout attacking performers. Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne in particular have produced devastating cameos to set their side on the way to knock out victories. When you add the physicality, pace and power of Romelu Lukaku, France have a job on their hands to stem the influence of these players.
The key French players tonight for me are Kante and Matuidi, two standout players for their ability to break opposition attacks. Both players will need to be on point with their tackles as an early yellow card could seriously undermine their ability to negate the running play of Hazard and De Bruyne who will look to slot into space between midfield and Lukaku upfront. If both French midfielders have standout games, France go to the final.
Thomas Meunier Absence
Thomas Meunier was heroic in his side’s victory over Brazil. His ability and conditioning to support his attacking colleagues while providing defensive solidity on the flanks despite the threat of Marcelo and Neymar marauding down his channel.
His suspension tonight poses a problem for Roberto Martinez. Dembele comes in fill the void but his central midfielder tendencies could potentially see France creating space out wide. It is a position of concern for Belgium when you consider the French attacking threats out wide. Mbappe, Pogba and Griezmann will look to move out to the flank vacated by Meunier to see if there are weak points to be exposed.
Where is Paul Pogba’s best position in this French side? Pogba has shown flashes of his undoubted talent in this tournament but there has being long periods where Pogba has struck an isolated figure. Pogba needs to be prominent in the early exchanges; look to run with the ball from deep and perhaps look to launch a coupleof runs from deep to attack the ball in the Belgium penalty area. Deschamps persists with Pogba in the central midfield area but I don’t see the Manchester United player as a defensive protector of his back line. Interesting cameo beckons from Pogba tonight.
Attacking flair vs. Defensive Nous
It is such an intriguing match up and how Deschamps and Martinez tactically setup will be fascinating. Both defenses are standouts in this tournament. Varane and Umtiti have shone for France defensively. Belgium’s back three of Kompany, Vertonghen and Alderweireld have provided the most assured performances with the ball in this tournament.
The attacking flair on show hopefully will not be stifled but I sense that both managers will have plans for the opposition star players. Witsel and Fellaini will be asked to negate the influence of Griezmann and Mbappe but then you have the threat of Pogba from deep and Giroud is liable to score a header from absolutely nothing. Same for France, the Belgium front three could potentially cause havoc provided that Hazard and De Bruyne ge the space they require.
France to shut down the Belgium front three threat while exposing the absence of Thomas Meunier. France win this contest 2-1. Heartbreak for Belgium.