Belgium and France meet in the World Cup semi-final at the Saint Petersburg Stadium on Tuesday. It will be only the second semi-final appearance for Belgium, but for France, it is a sixth.
Where: Saint Petersburg Stadium, St Petersburg
When: Tuesday, July 10, 21:00 local (1800 GMT)
Referee: Uruguayan Andres Cunha
- Belgium have reached the World Cup semi-finals for only the second time, losing out to eventual winners Argentina in 1986.
- Roberto Martinez’s side are unbeaten in 23 matches. Their last defeat in a competitive match was to Wales in the quarter-finals of Euro 2016.
- Belgium have scored more goals than any other team at the tournament (14).
- Belgium have had nine different goalscorers at this year’s World Cup (excluding own goals). Only Italy in 2006 and France in 1982 (10 each) have ever had more in a single tournament.
- Romelu Lukaku has scored 17 goals and made three assists in his last 13 Belgium appearances.
- Belgium full back Thomas Meunier will miss the match after being booked during the quarter-final against Brazil.
- France have progressed to the World Cup semi-final for the sixth time, reaching the final twice – in 1998 and 2006.
- Didier Deschamps’ side have scored with each of their last six shots on target at the tournament.
- Antoine Griezmann has netted seven goals in his past six appearances in the knockout stages of a major tournament.
- France have conceded just four goals in their five matches in the tournament.
Previous meetings: The European rivals have a long history, facing each other 73 times. France have won 24, Belgium 30, with 19 draws.
World Cup Semi-Final History
– Belgium’s only previous semi-final appearance came at the 1986 finals, where Diego Maradona turned on the second half magic and ensured for Argentina a place in the final with both goals in a 2-0 victory.
– In that tournament, Belgium squeezed through the first round in third place in their group after losing to hosts Mexico, before needing extra time to beat the Soviet Union in the last 16 and penalties to overcome Spain in the quarter-finals.
– Defender Eric Gerets rated the class of 2018 as more talented footballers than his 1986 team mates but said he did not believe they had the same fighting spirit until he saw their 2-1 win over Brazil in Friday’s quarter-final.
– After losing in the 1986 semi-final, Belgium faced France in Puebla for the bronze medal in the third place playoff and were beaten 4-2 after extra time despite taking an early lead.
– Belgium made it to the last eight at the last World Cup in Brazil but their hopes of a semi-final spot were snuffed out by one early Gonzalo Higuain goal for Argentina.
– There are 15 players from the 2014 Belgian squad who have returned for the tournament in Russia, having picked up considerable experience in the meantime.
– Just Fontaine’s record of 13 goals in a single tournament from the 1958 finals still stands as he helped propel the French to their first-ever semi-final, where they lost 5-2 to Brazil in Stockholm, with teenager Pele scoring a hat-trick.
– France lost on post-match penalties to West Germany in Seville in the 1982 semi-final, best remembered for an unpunished kung-fu style challenge by goalkeeper Harold Schumacher on France’s Patrick Battison that saw the Frenchman stretchered off 10 minutes after coming on as a substitute with a cracked vertebra and damaged teeth.
– Four years later in Mexico, France were again semi-finalists but once more thwarted by the Germans, losing 2-0 in Guadalajara.
– France won the World Cup when they hosted the 1998 finals, beating Croatia in the semi-final 2-1 with both goals from defender Lilian Thuram, but they had big defender Laurent Blanc sent off, meaning he missed the final win over Brazil.
– Current coach Didier Deschamps captained France that year as they lifted the trophy for the first time. He is now seeking to return to the final as he chases the double of winning the World Cup as both a player and a coach.
– France’s fifth semi-final appearance came in 2006, when Zinedine Zidane’s penalty was enough to beat Portugal 1-0.
KEY HEAD-TO-HEAD BATTLES
Kevin de Bruyne (Belgium) vs N’Golo Kante (France)
De Bruyne is one of the most astute passers of the ball in the game, and one of its best long-range marksmen. Brazil simply could not cope with him in the first half of their quarter-final.
On Tuesday, however, he will come up against one of the world’s best defensive midfielders in a battle that could go a long way to deciding the outcome.
Kante covers a remarkable amount of ground, his reading of the game is exceptional, and he is unlikely to be pulled around by De Bruyne in the same way that Fernandinho was in the quarter-final. Both play in England’s Premier League and have come up against each other before.
Romelu Lukaku (Belgium) vs Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti (France)
France have conceded only three goals on the way to the semi-finals, and the central defensive pair snuffed out the attacking threat of Luis Suarez in the quarter-final against Uruguay, barely allowing him a touch in the penalty area.
They will now aim to stop Lukaku adding to his tally of four goals in the tournament. The powerful striker has proved a handful, not just for his goals but also for his role as a target man and in opening up space for Eden Hazard and De Bruyne.
Lukaku led the counter-attack which led to Belgium’s second goal against Brazil in the quarter-final and also set up their winner against Japan in the second round with an astute, unselfish dummy.
Kylian Mbappe (France) vs Jan Vertonghen (Belgium)
As the left-sided player in Belgium’s three-man defence, Jan Vertonghen is likely to find himself as the man tasked with stopping French teenager Kylian Mbappe.
Vertonghen is an experienced campaigner and seen as one of Belgium’s most dependable players. But Mbappe’s powerful runs from midfield destroyed Argentina in the second round, and his pace is likely to stretch the 31-year-old Vertonghen to the limit.
Eden Hazard (Belgium) vs Benjamin Pavard (France)
Hazard has arguably been the outstanding player of the tournament and pulled Brazil and their right back Fagner around the field in their quarter-final.
France right back Pavard, 22, was a surprise inclusion in their squad, but he has had an excellent World Cup so far, capped by him scoring one of the goals of the tournament in the 4-2 win over Argentina.