It seems that each and every round in Russia makes the tournament better and better, and the quarterfinals were no exception. After three very entertaining matches to kick off the final eight, we were blessed with quite possibly the match of the tournament when Croatia edged out the host Russians in a shootout to advance to the semifinals.
Now the final four teams are set and it is anyones tournament to win. Prior to the knockout stages beginning, many believed that the left side of the bracket, which featured the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Portugal, and half of the semifinalists in France and Belgium, would produce the world champions. Croatia and England would like to prove the experts wrong and they very well may do that before it is all said and done.
With just four matches remaining in this year’s installment of the World Cup, we only have so much opportunity left to see the world’s biggest stars shine on the brightest stage. Most of these players will never get this chance again, so both of these semifinal matchups should be ones we are going to talk about for a long time.
France v. Belgium
This clash of European giants is one that some expected, but only a select few would have stated it before the tournament began. Both of these squads came in with high expectations, yet many were skeptical given their recent track records. The Belgians in particular were given a short leash coming to Russia, as their golden generation of footballers had failed to produce at the two previous major tournaments. Despite a slight setback against Japan in the round of 16, the Red Devils have played the way they should have been all along. Romelu Lukaku is finally showing his scoring brilliance that many were waiting for him to bring to the international stage. Captain Eden Hazard is looking like his usual self and proving to many that he deserves to wear the armband for such a stacked squad. Manager Roberto Martinez has made what looked like some questionable choices throughout the tournament, but they have all seemingly paid off. Belgium looked unbothered by a favored Brazilian side in the quarterfinals and should have the utmost confidence against the French.
France came into the World Cup as one of the perennial favorites, but they got off to a slow start in Russia. Despite winning two and drawing one in their group, Les Bleus looked sloppy at times and didn’t look like they had the drive to win this tournament. Following a 4-3 victory over Argentina and a rather simple 2-0 win over Uruguay, France now look like the legitimate contender many expected them to be. Their young and talented core of outfield players seem to be playing to their fullest potential at the moment, and their veteran players are proving themselves as the right choices by manager Didier Deschamps. The French will be looking to reach their second straight major final appearance after cruising to the final on their home soil at the 2016 Euros.
If I had to put my money on it, I’d say this matchup will be better than the second semifinal. There is a boatload of talent on both sides of the pitch and the stars will be out in full force on Tuesday. Expect a fast paced match with both sides trying to break through early and often. However, with two solid defenses and two of the best goalkeepers in the world in Hugo Lloris and Thibaut Courtois, scoring chances may come at a premium. This has the potential to be a high-scoring thriller, but I believe goals will not come aplenty. It will be a low scoring affair, but don’t be surprised if it breaks out into a 6 or 7 goal match before the final whistle blows.
Prediction: Belgium 2 – 1 France
Croatia v. England
Two unlikely foes meet in the second semifinal, as the Croatians take on everyone’s favorite side, the Three Lions of England. The Croatians being in the semifinals is not as shocking as their European counterparts, but seeing them in the final four is still something to get used to. They barely escaped Russia in the quarterfinals but they should be more than ready to break down England. As always, the midfield will be key for a Croatian victory. Luka Modric has had his way with opposing defenses throughout the tournament and I expect more of the same against England.
The 1966 world champions find themselves in the semifinals of the World Cup for the first time since 1990. No one expected England to be here, but don’t be fooled by their previous failures on the big stage. This England team is incredibly talented and are led by a fellow Englishman in Gareth Southgate who is as passionate a manager as I have seen in awhile. Harry Kane is the tournaments leading scorer and although none of his goals have been highlight reel worthy, the ball finds the back of the net when he shoots. At this point, the Brits won’t care how they score, those fans will go crazy no matter what.
Though this matchup isn’t as flashy as the other semifinal, it will still be a very exciting match with a lot of flashy play. The midfield brilliance of Croatia pitted against a stingy English defense will be the matchup to watch in this one. I see Croatia grabbing an early lead, then England will bring it back before halftime. Both sides will be scratching and clawing each other throughout the second half for that second goal, and it will finally happen for Croatia. Unfortunately for England, this magical run will finally come to an end. I think the lack of premium competition they have faced so far will come back to haunt them, and Croatia will grind out a much deserved spot in the final. Sadly to many people’s dismay, the trophy will not be coming home this year.
Prediction: Croatia 2 – 1 England