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.
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.
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.
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