Saturday 21 July 2018

5 talking points as France meet Belgium in the World Cup semi-finals

Will Kylian Mbappe prove to be Belgium’s undoing or can the likes of Kevin De Bruyne upset France?

Belgium will face France in the World Cup semi-finals (Frank Augstein/AP)
Belgium will face France in the World Cup semi-finals (Frank Augstein/AP)

By Andy Hampson, Press Association Sport

France face Belgium on Tuesday in the first of the World Cup semi-finals.

Here, Press Association Sport looks at some talking points ahead of the game in St Petersburg.

France living up to favourites tag

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France have so far lived up to their billing as favourites (AP)

Didier Deschamps’ side began the tournament as one of the favourites and unlike some other much-fancied teams – Germany, Spain and Brazil – they have lived up to it. They made steady progress through the group stage, exploded into life against Argentina in the last 16 and then produced a professional performance to see off Uruguay in the quarter-finals. They are an impressive side with strength, depth and some flair. They rightly remain the favourites.

Have Belgium clicked?

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Kevin De Bruyne is a big threat to France (AP)

It has been the case for some years that Belgium, with a wealth of individual talent, possess the quality to challenge the very best. The problem has been moulding them into an effective team. There have been plenty of signs in Russia that things have now started to click. With Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne combining, Belgium have the competition’s most prolific attack while they are also defensively solid and have a fine goalkeeper in Thibaut Courtois.

Mbappe the big threat

Kylian Mbappe has been tipped for big things for a couple of years now and he has certainly lived up to his billing in this World Cup. The pacey 19-year-old forward – not even born when France triumphed in 1998 – has been exhilarating both on the ball and in front of goal. He has combined superbly with Antoine Griezmann. Olivier Giroud and Paul Pogba and will try to take the game to Belgium.

Roberto Martinez seizing chance to shine

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Roberto Martinez is making a name for himself on the world stage (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Despite an impressive qualification campaign, former Wigan and Everton manager Martinez came into the tournament with question marks over his true ability. When he managed in England he always stuck to his principles of free-flowing play, even if the players at his disposal were not ideally suited to it. Belgium have the players he needs to follow his philosophy. His team have grown into the tournament and Martinez’s methods are being appreciated more. His substitutions paid off spectacularly against Japan and his tactical changes proved too much for Brazil.

Thierry Henry factor

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Thierry Henry (top) is now in the Belgium camp (Adam Davy/PA)

Henry, a World Cup and European Championship winner with France as well as their record goalscorer, is now in the Belgium camp as assistant manager. He was a national hero in France but he is now helping plot their downfall. His presence on the touchline will add an interesting extra dimension to proceedings. Mbappe, who has been likened to a young Henry, considers him an inspiration but it is the likes of Lukaku who will benefit from his experience.

Press Association

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