World Cup 2018: A guide to France-Belgium, Croatia-England semi-finals

There were 32 teams, now there are just four. 

The World Cup semi-finals are upon us, with either France, Belgium, England or Croatia set to lift the trophy at the end of Sunday’s final in Moscow.

Both semi-finals look too close to call, with no clear favorite for the title after five-time winners Brazil were beaten by Belgium in the last round.

Without further ado, here is our guide to the World Cup semi-finals…

France vs. Belgium

Date, time and venue: Tuesday, July 10 (21:00 local time) – Krestovsky Stadium, St Petersburg 

Belgium’s “golden generation” is on the brink of greatness, Roberto Martinez having seen his reputation rocket over the course of the tournament. Belgium was 2-0 down against Japan in the last 16 and looking like it would crash out in similar circumstances to its shock loss to Wales in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals. But Martinez masterminded a dramatic comeback and Belgium did not look back, earning a deserved victory over Brazil in the quarters.

Kevin De Bruyne was given a more advanced role and he hurt the Selecao time and time again, but Martinez cannot spring the same surprise, although he may get some inside knowledge from assistant Thierry Henry, France’s record goalscorer. With fellow Premier League stars Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku also thriving in Russia, Belgium will sense this is their chance to win a first World Cup, although right-back Thomas Meunier is out due to suspension.

Like opposite number Martinez, Didier Deschamps has been much-maligned, but the France coach is on the brink of taking his side to the World Cup final. It is fair to say France has not thrilled other than in its defeat of Argentina. But with the likes of Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and rising star Kylian Mbappe, the team is not short of talent. Whether Deschamps can find the right tactical system to get the most out of his team remains to be seen as France seek to go one step better than its Euro 2016 final loss to Portugal, a damaging defeat on home soil.

Key battle: With Neymar, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo all out, Hazard is arguably the biggest star still at the World Cup. Benjamin Pavard has improved as the tournament has gone on, but this will be the France right-back’s toughest test to date.

Top stat: Lukaku has been directly involved in 20 goals in his last 13 games for Belgium in all competitions — three assists and a whopping 17 goals.

Croatia vs. England

Date, time and venue: Wednesday, July 11 (21:00 local time) – Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow

From a half of the draw that included Spain and Argentina, few would have predicted Croatia and England would be the two sides to make it through to this stage, with a place in the final now in their sights. Luka Modric’s fine performances mean the Croatia playmaker is a contender for the Golden Ball and will need to be closely monitored by Gareth Southgate’s men.

The same applies from a Croatia perspective to England captain Harry Kane, the clear frontrunner for the Golden Boot after hitting six goals in his first three matches at the tournament, sitting out the 1-0 loss to Belgium as he was rested. Kane carries England’s hopes of glory as the Three Lions hunt their first World Cup crown since 1966, when they claimed the trophy on home soil.

Domagoj Vida is available for Croatia after FIFA opted to only give the defender a warning after he made pro-Ukraine comments in a social media video following his team’s quarter-final win against hosts Russia on penalties.

Key battle: After a relatively quiet game against Sweden, Kane will be seeking to secure the Golden Boot — he has a two-goal cushion from a chasing pack that includes Lukaku. In his way will be Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren, enjoying a quietly excellent World Cup at the heart of the Croatia back line.

Top stat: England has only conceded 52 fouls at the World Cup so far, at least 20 fewer than any of the other three remaining semi-finalists.

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