With the last eight coming to an end, four teams stand in a quest to lift the World Cup. France, Belgium, England and Croatia remain; which of these two will face off on July 15th?
Belgium vs. France
A game between two neighboring European nations; these are amongst the most talented sides of the tournament and have produced some impressive performances. The Golden Generation of Belgian Football has fallen short in their last three major tournaments. Their demolition of Brazil in the quarterfinals was the sort of performance of a team that has what it takes to win the World Cup.
France were heavily favored to make it out of their group - which they did - though they managed to score three goals in as many games. They showcased their incredible pool of talent as Les Bleus came alive against Argentina. Mbappe was the standout player as they dismantled Argentina in Kazan. France has played on second gear for most of this tournament, so the idea that their best is yet to come is frightening. France could be peaking ahead of their time as Deschamps' side was viewed as too young to make a run deep into this World Cup - potentially becoming mature enough to win the next Euros and the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
Griezmann, Mbappe, Varane, Umtiti and Pogba are certain to be the spine of France's team four years from now though for Belgium, there time to make a mark in history is now. With his best player currently in their prime and approaching their 30's, Martinez has to prepare his players to grasp their opportunity. Belgium were led by the efforts of a dynamic trio - Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, and Romelu Lukaku were blazing hot against Brazil and go into the semifinals as favorites.
History favors France. They have the greater pedigree having twice made the finals, with their sole victory coming in 1998. But, Belgium are the side that appear to have come together as a collective unit at just the right time. Les Rouges Diables completely shutdown Neymar and now have a stern test in the form of Mbappe. Vincent Kompany has found a stretch of full fitness that is a welcome sign for Martinez as he will look upon City's captain to marshal his troops.
France have to find a way to negate Hazard and De Bruyne. Lukaku is likely to drift onto the wings to give Pavard and Hernandez a world of trouble. The game will be won in the middle of the park and on the wings. Pogba and Kante need to control the pace of the game and not allow Belgium to beat them on the break. Martinez's wingbacks are not known for defending - not to say that the French fullbacks are nay better. The pair of wing-backs/fullbacks to make the least mistakes will decide the fate of the game.
Do the Belgians have the mental fortitude to beat France in the biggest game of their history? Can France get to their third, fourth, or fifth gears and live up to their true potential?
Winners: Belgium 2 - 3 France
Croatia vs England
An unlikely last four matchup at the beginning of the tournament, both nations have benefitted ending up on a favorable side of the bracket. They now stand on the precipice of making the World Cup final.
England beat Colombia and Sweden while Croatia have looked like the most bipolar team of the whole tournament. They stood out in the group of death but have since looked like a shadow of themselves. They needed to take it to penalties to beat a lacklustre Denmark team and unpredictable Russia team. Having twice played to 120 minutes and beyond, the biggest question surrounding Croatia is if they have enough juice in the tank to take it to England? Subasic was their hero against Russia though he did sustain an injury. Will he be fit enough to repeat his heroics?
Fitness is not an issue for the Three Lions after coasting to a 2-0 win against the Swedes. Southgate has unlocked a winning formula that has gotten the best out of his players though he does have some tactical questions that needs to overcome before their clash against Croatia. Does he need to make accommodations for the likes of Eric Dier to help nullify the dynamic midfield of Croatia? Does he gamble by playing Alli, Lingard, and Sterling or does he bench one of the three attacking midfield players to avoid a breakdown in the middle of the park?
Croatia's ball dominance will be a huge test for England. The Three Lion's relentless forward runs and tactics on set pieces are likely to get the better of Croatia's defence.
The two countries have a rich history between them having previously seven times since Croatia's independence in the early 90's. The past two meetings have ended in big wins for England, winning 4-1 and 5-1. Southgate will have his XI come charging out of the gates and their extra energy will be decisive as Croatia will have to use their willpower to compensate for a lack of fuel in their tanks.
Winners: Croatia 1 - 2 England
Football's coming home... to the Finals!