Russia 2018 semi-finals: France dares Belgium, England confronts Croatia

 

As the semi-finals battle kicks off  in the ongoing FIFA World Cup to decide the two finalists for the July 15 showdown at the Luzhniki Stadium, the four combatants must first slug it out for the two available slots in the grand finale.

While Les Bleus of France are hoping to repeat their success in 1998, their next door neighbour, Le Diable Rouge (The Red Devils) of Belgium will play in their first semi-final in 32 years.

France Vs Belgium

The World Cup rivalry between the two European Union members dates back to the 1938 World Cup which France hosted and Les Bleus defeated Le Diable Rouge 3-1 in an opening round encounter.

 It will be 48 years when the teams would meet again, though in less significant circumstances, France defeated Belgium 4-2 after extra time, in the third place match of the Mexico 1986 World Cup.

France and Belgium are very familiar foes, having played each other a record 73 times.

Head to Head — the Belgians have the better record, having won 30 to the French’s 24 and 19 games ending in a draw.

But in competitive games, France have won 5 with Belgium winning 3 and drawing 3.

The last match between the two teams took place in 2015 with Belgium running out 4-3 winners with two Marouane Fellaini goals in an exciting friendly in Paris.

This will be France’s sixth World Cup semi-final; they were beaten in their first three in 1958, 1982 and 1986 just as they had played in the semi-final in 1998 and 2006.

But this time around, the Didier Deschamps tutored squad looks fired up to go for broke as they seek to emulate the class of France ’98 squad of which Deschamps was the World Cup winning captain.

On his part, Coach Roberto Martinez will seek to use the “Golden Generation’’ of Belgium talents under his tutelage to grab one of the final slot for the grand finale at the Luzhniki in Moscow.

Belgium’s only appearance in the semi-finals was in the 1986 World Cup where they lost 2-0 to eventual winners Argentina under the charismatic inspiration of Diego Maradona.

In terms of pedigree, France have what it takes to go all the way, while Belgium have the skills, both have beaten some of the best en route and, statistically, the Red Devils hold the upper hand.

England Vs Croatia

Head-to-head the two countries have played seven games with England recording four wins,  one draw and two losses.

For Coach Gareth Southgate and the Three Lions, the Croatia assignment is one they must tackle with all the skill at their disposal to realise their ambition of playing in the finals to bring the FIFA trophy home.

Harry Kane would have to be more clinical in front of goal in order to add to his tally of six goals and possibly emerge as the winner of the famed Golden Boot in the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

England emerged Champions in the 1966 edition of the World Cup which they hosted and have played in only one semi-final appearance in 14 tournaments.

Croatia in their first ever participation in World Cup got to the semi-finals and eventually came third in the France 1998 edition and also seem poised to make history in Russia.

FIFA rebukes Maradona over ‘robbery’ comment

FIFA has strongly rebuked Argentina great Diego Maradona’s comments that England’s win over Colombia was a robbery and that referee Mark Geiger was not up to the task.

“Following comments made by Diego Armando Maradona…FIFA strongly rebukes the criticism of the performance of the match officials which it considers to have been positive in a tough and highly emotional match,” said the global soccer body in a statement.

FIFA said it was “doing everything within its power to ensure principles of fair play, integrity and respect are at the forefront of this World Cup and how the organisation is now run.”

In that context, FIFA said it was “extremely sorry to read such declarations from a player who has written the history of our game.”

England won the round of 16 match on penalties following 120 minutes marred by squabbling, protests to the referee, play-acting and feigning injury.

FIFA said it was “extremely sorry to read such declarations from a player who has written the history of our game.”

Maradona said England’s win was a “monumental robbery” and that Geiger “shouldn’t be given a match of this magnitude.”

He added: “Geiger, an American, what a coincidence.”