Preview: France vs Belgium

France and Belgium will lock horns in St. Petersburg on Tuesday when the two teams aim to book a spot in the 2018 World Cup final in Russia.

2018 FIFA World Cup
10 July 2018
Kick-off: 20:00 (GMT+2)
Venue: Saint-Petersburg Stadium

Referee: A. Cunha
Assistants: N. Taran, M. Espinosa
Fourth official: C. Ramos

Previous encounter:

France 3-4 Belgium (Friendly) 07/06/2015

France goalscorers: M. Valbuena (pen 53′), N. Fekir (89′), D. Payet (90’+1)

Belgium goalscorers: M. Fellaini (17′, 42′), R. Nainggolan (50′), E. Hazard (pen 54′)

Players to watch:

France forward Kylian Mbappe has found form at the tournament with three goals in his four starts for Les Blues. His explosive pace and finishing ability has caused problems for many a defence and he is likely to be a thorn in Belgium’s side.

The Red Devils will be hoping star striker Romelu Lukaku can add to his four goals in Russia, while Kevin De Bruyne is also a crucial figure for Roberto Martinez’s side. The duo combined against Brazil in the quarter-finals when Lukaku laid the ball off for De Bruyne to strike home for a decisive goal and are expected to make life difficult for France.

Team form and manager quotes:

Didier Deschamps’ men started the tournament slowly with unconvincing wins over Australia and Peru, before a bore draw against Denmark.

However, those results put them at the top of Group C and lined up a last-16 clash with Argentina. Les Bleus stepped up their game against the South Americans and pulled off a dramatic 4-3 victory thanks to a brace from Mbappe.

Their quarter-final clash with Uruguay was more comfortable and they were able to clinch a 2-0 win after Raphael Varane and Antoine Griezmann found the back of the net.

Despite failing to score at the tournament thus far, Olivier Giroud remains a key part of France’s line-up, according to Deschamps.

“It is true Olivier has not scored yet, but – I repeat – yet,” he said. “He might not have the flamboyant style of other players but the team needs him in each and every match because even if he does not score, he does many things for us. Olivier is important to our team, and for our style of play.”

Meanwhile, Belgium were on cruise control for their Group G fixtures. They thrashed Panama 3-0 and Tunisia 5-2 before grinding out a 1-0 win over England, who will be in action in the other semi-final against Croatia.

The Red Devils’ nerve was tested in the last 16 when they had to come from two goals down to beat Japan 3-2 thanks to a stoppage-time winner from Nacer Chadli.

Brazil were next up in the quarter-finals. Martinez’s charges started the game positively and were rewarded in the 13th minute with a Fernandinho own-goal. The lead was then doubled by De Bruyne’s powerful drive. Renato Augusto pulled one back for the Selecao in the 76th minute, but Belgium held on for the win.

Martinez told ESPN: “This group has to play with no fear at all. If we approach this match with fear within us, we will bring ourselves down and we’d be able to do so much less than what we can actually do.

“To play without fear would probably be the one thing which would help us the most.”

Team news:

France will be able to call upon Blaise Matuidi once again after he missed the Uruguay game due to suspension.

Belgium will be without the services of Thomas Meunier after he picked up another yellow card against Brazil.