European neighbours France and Belgium face-off in the first of the two semi-finals in Saint Petersburg, after Les Bleus defeated Uruguay 2-0 and the Red Devils edged out Brazil 2-1 in their respected quarter-final ties.
The 1998 World Champions France are bidding to make their third World Cup final appearance, and their first since the infamous Zinedine Zidane head-butt on Marco Materazzi in 2006, which saw the French lose via a penalty shootout.
Placed third in the FIFA rankings before the tournament, Belgium’s golden generation are aiming to reach their first ever World Cup final.
Road to the World Cup Semi-Finals
Belgium: 3-0 vs Panama, 5-2 vs Tunisia, 1-0 vs England, 3-2 vs Japan, 2-1 vs Brazil.
Roberto Martínez could afford to make nine changes against England, having already secured qualification from the group. But in a game neither manager wanted to win, Adnan Januzaj scored to send Belgium into the more difficult half of the draw.
Surprisingly 2-0 down to Japan, Belgium dug deep to win the game in regulation, before taking on the tournament favourites Brazil and winning 2-1 thanks to a superb strike from Kevin De Bruyne.
France: 2-1 vs Australia, 1-0 vs Peru, 0-0 vs Denmark, 4-3 vs Argentina, 2-0 vs Uruguay
France have flattered to deceive, so far, with their standout performance coming in their 4-3 win over Argentina in the Round of 16. Kylian Mbappé sparkled that day and became the first teenager to score a World Cup brace since Pelé in 1958.
Except for a rare set-piece, Les Bleus were rarely challenged against a Cavani-less Uruguay, and never looked in danger of not qualifying from their group.
- Finishing 3rd in 1958, Just Fontaine won the Golden Boot with a record 13 goals in just six matches.
- Michel Platini’s France lost in consecutive World Cup semi-finals to West Germany in 1982 and 1986, although they won the European Championships in 1984 (hosted by France).
- Zinedine Zidane finally led France to their first World Cup triumph at France ‘98, and a second Euro’s in 2000.
- France’s last appearance at the World Cup final arrived in 2006, which is remembered for Zizou’s infamous head-butt on Marco Materazzi, before Italy edged out Les Bleus on penalties.
- Before the inaugural FIFA World Cup in 1930, Belgium won Olympic Gold in the men’s football in 1920 as the host nation.
- The Red Devils topped the FIFA World Rankings for the first time in November 2015
- Finished as runners-up at Euro 1980 after losing in the final to Germany 2-1.
- Enzo Scifo was named the Best Young Player at Mexico ’86, as Belgium finished fourth in their highest placed finish at a World Cup. They lost their semi-final to a Diego Maradona brace, before losing 4-2 France in the third place match.
Current Team News
Belgium – Thomas Meunier is suspended, so Yannick Carrasco should make his way back into the starting line-up. At 2-0 down in the Round of 16 against Japan, Martínez brought on Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli and won 3-2 with Fellaini grabbing the equaliser.
Both players were selected again in the Red Devils impressive victory over Brazil. And aside from their impact, the change appears to have unlocked De Bruyne, who has replaced Dries Mertens in one of Belgium’s attacking roles.
France – Les Bleus welcome back Blaise Matuidi, who was suspended for their 2-0 victory over Uruguay; he is expected to replace Corentin Tolisso.
Didier Deschamps looks set to persist with Olivier Giroud, who has failed to net so far, after starting the tournament with Ousmane Dembele. The hope being that Giroud’s presence can give star players Antoine Griezmann and Mbappé the space they need to operate effectively.
The European neighbours have met 73 times: France have won 24, whist Belgium have been victorious on 30 occasions, with 19 meetings ending in a draw.
Last Five Matches
18 May 2002 France 1-2 Belgium International Friendly
18 Feb 2004 Belgium 0-2 France International Friendly
15 Nov 2011 France 0-0 Belgium International Friendly
14 Aug 2013 Belgium 0-0 France International Friendly
07 Jun 2015 France 3-4 Belgium International Friendly
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