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.

Pinnick to commission France, Belgium semi final tonight

                                                                                  Amaju Pinnick


Embattled President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick, has been confirmed as the Match Commissioner for the 2018 FIFA World Cup first semi final match between France and Belgium in Saint Petersburg tonight. The match will begin at 7pm Nigeria time.

The potentially explosive clash at the 67,000-capacity Zenit Arena will be the fifth match Pinnick would commission at the finals in Russia.
He remains the only Nigerian involved at such high level of operation at the FIFA World Cup.

That match will bring together some of the best artists of the round leather game in the universe at the present, including France’s Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe, and Belgium’s Romelo Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard.
Last Friday in Nizhny Novgorod, Pinnick was also the Match Commissioner of the quarter final clash between France and Uruguay which the Blues won.

The NFF boss and Member of the Organising Committee of FIFA Competitions took charge of the group phase matches between Iran and Portugal in Saransk on 25th June (1-1) and between Panama and Tunisia (1-2) also in Saransk on 28th June, as well as the Round of 16 encounter between Sweden and Switzerland in Saint Petersburg on 3rd July (1-0).
The newly appointed First Vice President of CAF will also commission the 2018 FIFA World Cup third place match in Saint Petersburg on Saturday.

The second semi final will take place at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow (venue of the Final match) on Wednesday, between England’s Three Lions and Luka Modric –led Croatia.
A total of 152 goals have been scored in the 60 matches played so far at this year’s World Cup, with four of the knockout round matches (Spain Vs Russia in the Round of 16); Croatia Vs Denmark in the Round of 16); Colombia Vs England in the Round of 16) and; Russia Vs Croatia in Saturday’s last quarter final match, settled only after penalty shootouts.

France vs Belgium: Giroud targets goal against Courtois


Olivier Giroud has backed France to find a way past Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois in Tuesday’s World Cup semifinal in St Petersburg.

Chelsea striker Giroud, 31, has yet to score in Russia but wants to end that run against Chelsea teammate Courtois.

“Thibaut is difficult to beat and he has been very good at this World Cup,.

He has a strong defence in front of him, but I am sure we will be able to break through that wall.

I have scored a few goals against Thibaut in training at Chelsea, and I intend to do the same again on Tuesday. “he said.

Giroud praised Belgium skipper Eden Hazard, another Chelsea colleague, and France’s Kylian Mbappe as two of the best players he has worked with.

“Eden and Kylian are both geniuses,” he said.

Kylian is more serious  he makes calls from deeper, so is more attacking than Eden.

“That said, I have a special relationship with Eden at Chelsea  we need each other on the pitch. Eden is one of the three top players that I have played alongside during my career, but Kylian might be in that band too.

Giroud predicted a tight game against Belgium, saying he felt it would be a 50-50 match.

They have a great team, but we do too, We have a big rivalry with Belgium it is a derby, so this game will have an English feel to it. It is a special match.

They are third in the FIFA rankings and they possess a very good generation of players. It will be even harder than the last few matches.

Mbappe told TF1 that France were really proud of their achievements so far We know our own qualities. We need to get back to work to do the right things in the semifinal and allow ourselves to dream.” He added.

Meanwhile, defender Benjamin Pavard rejected the idea that France would be favourites.

“Belgium are gaining momentum  they have great players, but we are sure of our qualities, and we have an exceptional squad that is very together,.

It is going to be a very complicated match. However, we are scared of nobody. Our squad is exceptional.

We know that Belgium are a top team. We have played against (Lionel) Messi and (Luis) Suarez, though, so we are afraid of nobody we will work to keep them out too.

People keep talking us up as favourites, but there are still four top teams left. Give it time we will see after the Belgium match.” he said

French coach Didier Deschamps, also speaking to TF1, warned: “Belgium have great potential in attack, they possess a generation of great quality. The Belgians are at the best European clubs, and they deserve their semifinal berth.”