Despite their differing histories, France and Belgium have plenty in common. Both teams are energetic and attacking. Both entered Russia shouldering the weight of major expectations. Both have lived up to those expectations throughout their run through the World Cup. At least so far.
Tuesday’s clash features loads of star power on both sides as two unbeaten teams collide after dispatching of a pair of other world-class foes. France began their knockout round run with a win over Argentina before taking down Uruguay while Belgium edged Japan before taking down a tournament favorite in Brazil.
Both sides are young but talented, and both sides have shown the ability to attack in numbers through their stay in Russia. A total of nine different goalscorers have scored for the Red Devils, who lead the tournament in goals through the quarterfinal round. Romelu Lukaku is the team’s leading goalscorer with four goals in as many games, although his biggest contributions have likely come via his hold up play.
France has also relied on a number of attackers. Antoine Griezmann has been solid, even if he hasn’t fully played to his full potential. Kylian Mbappe has continued his emergence, lighting up Argentina in the Round of 16 match. The two forwards have scored three goals with Olivier Giroud serving as the target man and facilitator up front.
While France will received a slight boost with the return of the previously-suspended Blaise Matuidi, Belgium will have an issue to work out. Thomas Meunier, a key piece on the right side of the field, will miss out due to a yellow card suspension. Meunier’s absence opens the door for a formational change as Roberto Martinez could opt to move away from the three-at-the-back set that has seen Meunier thrive as a wing back.
Against Brazil, Lukaku was deployed more on the right with Kevin de Bruyne operating as somewhat of a false nine, an approach that worked with plenty of success. It remains to be seen if Martinez opts for the look again but, no matter which way the team lines up, Belgium will have to be ready for France’s midfield.
Matuidi is back, providing even more energy in a midfield led by N’Golo Kante. The Chelsea star has been quietly magnificent throughout, breaking up play and dictating the pace in France’s favor. Paul Pogba may not be playing up to his flashy reputation, but the French star has been quietly effective in helping France control the play.
They’ll likely do that on Tuesday as Belgium looks to get on the run with counter attacks. It will be up to Kante and Matuidi to put out those fires as France looks to avoid a track meet against a dynamic Belgium.
If they can do that, France certainly has the ability to make the country’s first World Cup final since 2006, the infamous Zinedine Zidane headbutt game. If not and Belgium can get running, the golden generation has a chance to cap the 2018 World Cup with a golden trophy at the end of it all.