Sunday, 18 November, 2018

Respect in equal measure as France and Belgium vie for final spot

Jordan Henderson-injury GETTY World Cup 2018 Henderson came off in the 85th minute against Sweden
Cassandra Castillo | 10 July, 2018, 19:11

England are the surprise package at this World Cup and they take on Croatia in Wednesday's second semi-final at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow and Whelan fancies them to win too. Rather than add up the combined transfer values of Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappé, or coo over the pass-completion statistics of N'Golo Kanté, the France coach suggested that any manager contemplating a World Cup semi-final is unusually blessed.

Tuesday's match will be the third time France and Belgium have met in a World Cup; France won both previous meetings.

The only difference being is that France have history to live up to.

The editor of Belgium's L'Echo was having none of the French talking down to its smaller neighbor, especially as the current Belgian team is regarded as the greatest in a generation, with the best chance ever of bringing home the cup.

The two sides are competing for a place in the World Cup final, and ahead of the game, it is Belgium who marginally boast the most impressive performers.

"His heart will be divided", France captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris told French media on Monday. One of the most legendary players the country has ever known, a World Cup and European victor with Les Bleus, the greatest goalscorer the national team has ever seen (51 goals in 123 caps), a former captain and an icon for a lot of French kids growing up. Both players are capable of unlocking defences with moments of great skill.

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Deschamps' comments would also appear to clear Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti to start against the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard. Marouane Fellaini, who has oft-partnered Pogba in the United midfield, will now be looking to stop the powerful Frenchman. How deep, or advanced, will Kevin de Bruyne play?

In possession, Belgium stuck to their classic 3-4-2-1 system, however, the formation was subjected to minor tweaks.

Belgium wing-back Thomas Meunier is suspended so will miss the match in St Petersburg.

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez set up his side brilliantly against Brazil, and I'm sure he will replicate that and come up with a plan to stop Mbappe, and for that matter Antoine Griezmann. "However, during the match, there will be no friendship". "When we were able to achieve that, there was an interest from each player to put all individual interests aside". "It's not the Thierry Henry show; I am here to help the squad". Yes, the likenesses between Kylian Mbappe and Henry are uncanny, except that Mbappe is still a teenager while stamping his mark on this tournament, while, 20 years ago, in France, Henry was a year older.

Deschamps has the "win-at-all-costs" mentality and it's evident in his six years in-charge of France. He is a huge player, a giant of French football.

Thierry Henry's presence at the 2018 World Cup has been as discreet as he can make it, but he cannot control all the cameramen turning their lenses on him, all the press conference enquiries about him or indeed, the exuberance of some Belgian players. Anyway, it is the Spaniard and long-term ally Jones who run the show, with Henry decorating the fringes on a relatively modest salary of around £100,000 a year that he is said to donate to charity.

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