France v Belgium
Date, time and venue: Wednesday, July 11 – Saint Petersburg Stadium - LIVE on SBS from 3am AEST (kick-off at 4am)
World Cup head-to-head: Played: 2 | France: 2 | Drawn:0 | Belgium: 0
Belgium’s golden generation has finally evolved into the team of world beaters many predicted, but first they must defeat a young France side equally determined to etch their spot in history.
The Red Devils demonstrated the full extent of their powers in their 2-1 quarter-final win against World Cup favourites Brazil with Premier League stars Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku once again leading the push for Roberto Martinez’s side.
With the exception of the first half of their round of 16 clash with Japan, Belgium have been dominant in each of their five games in Russia so far and will look to take the game to a highly touted French outfit.
For Didier Deschamps Les Bleus side the time is now for their star-studded roster to show what they are truly capable of after a run of less than thrilling performances on the way to the semi-finals.
With the likes of Antoine Griezman, Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe, arguably the next big superstar in world football, just to name a few, France have a scary amount of talent in attack.
However, that has been Deschamps biggest problem with the France coach struggling so far to find the right system to maximise the incredibly deep roster he has at his disposal.
After a heartbreaking loss on home soil in the final of EURO 2016, France have a point to prove and will be determined to secure their spot in the World Cup final.
Keys to victory: Eden Hazard has lived up to his billing this world cup and has been the spark which has driven the Belgian attack.
His speed, mazy dribbling skills and vision make him a player who can decide a game on his own.
If the Red Devils can get the ball to Hazard in dangerous areas he has the talent to create plenty of headaches for defenders.
While France have their own plethora of attacking superstars, it will be defensive midfielder N'Golo Kante who holds the key to victory for Les Bleus.
Kante’s ability to shut down his Chelsea teammate Hazard could be the difference between jubilation and devastation for France.
Players to watch: Martinez gave Nacer Chadli a return to the starting line-up for the match against Brazil after he came off the bench to score an incredible late winner against Japan in the round of 16.
Chadli will be required to replace right wing-back Thomas Meunier and could be in for a tough night at the office against pacy wingers Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele.
It will be a similar story for France with young right-back Benjamin Pavard also set for a tough battle with Lukaku, Yannick Carrasco and Hazard.
Croatia v England
Date, time and venue: Thursday, July 12 – Luzhniki Stadium - LIVE on SBS from 3am AEST (kick-off at 4am)
World Cup head-to-head: Played: 0 | Croatia: 0 | Drawn: 0 | England: 0
It’s been the comedic undertone to a World Cup run bathed in belief by England fans around the world, but 2018 could indeed be the year football comes home.
After a penalty shootout-win over Colombia lifted the nation’s World Cup curse, the Three Lions swept Sweden aside to set up a semi-final showdown with fellow surprise-packets Croatia.
In his first senior head coaching role since 2009, Gareth Southgate has won the hearts of a nation and returned them to the final four of football’s showpiece event for the first time since 1990.
For all the scepticism surrounding his 3-5-2 formation, Southgate’s youthful squad, led by Golden Boot favourite Harry Kane, have flourished and demonstrated the advantageous ability to defend and attack in numbers, and it’s this unified mentality that has them quietly confident of ending their 52-year wait for a return to the World Cup final.
Standing in their way however is a Croatia outfit coming off two successive penalty shootout victories over Denmark and hosts Russia respectively.
Before this year’s installment, the Vatreni – in the midst of their own ‘Golden Generation’ – had long-failed to replicate 1998’s famed generation and shine on the international stage.
Three dismal group stage exits and a failure to qualify in 2010 left hopes hanging by a thread.
But now, Zlatko Dalic’s men dare to dream and Croatians worldwide with them, as captain Luka Modric and co. set out to create history and reach their maiden World Cup final as an independent nation.
Keys to victory: Dalic has had mixed results regarding personnel thus far, often alternating between an advanced and holding midfield role for Modric.
Should Dalic deploy Modric deeper against England, and alongside the equally impressive Ivan Rakitic, Andrej Kramaric will have space to roam in behind striker Mario Mandzukic.
This choice of personnel, along with wide players Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic, would create a four-man front for England and could trouble their back three in transition should Modric pounce and exploit the spaces in behind Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young.
Meanwhile England’s best bet at a goal could come from a set-piece once again. The Three Lions have scored eight goals from such scenarios, more than any other side, and will take confidence knowing Russia found the net in the same fashion.
Players to watch: Modric and Kane are the cornerstone of either side’s chances of success in Moscow.
The Real Madrid midfielder is arguably the best in the world in his position and will duly demonstrate why, should England give him the time and space on Thursday.
Kane meanwhile has been deadly in front of goal and will fancy himself against Croatia’s centre-back pairing of Domagoj Vida and Dejan Lovren, the latter of which Kane terrorised this past Premier League season with three goals.