France Vs Belgium Preview: European pretenders set to battle for World Cup final place
Written by: Punit Tripathi
The assistant coach of The Reds Thierry Henry is facing his national team managed by former team-mate Didier Deschamps.
This one’s the Special One, and not Jose Mourinho. A France Vs Belgium clash has superstar status writ all over it, with Spain-Portugal’s goalscoring abilities, Croatia-Denmark’s midfield creativity, and England-Colombia’s defensive strength.
Contrary to popular belief, Belgium have won more games than France when the two teams have met. In 73 meetings, Belgium lead the race with 30 wins to France’s 24, 19 draws sandwiched in betwen. In line with popular thought, France has prevailed over their European counterparts on the two occasions they’ve come across each other at the FIFA World Cup, winning 3-1 and 4-2 in 1938 and 1986 respectively.
Belgium last played France in a friendly in Paris in 2015. On that occasion at least, The beauty of the city could not stop the burgeoning talent that the Red Devils possess and Belgium defeated Les Bleus 3-4 in a closely contested affair.
About the teams
Here’s the part where we get into the nitty-gritties of the game. Les Bleus Vs Les Diables Rouges is a firecracker the world is waiting for, with bated breath. In France, Kylian Mbappe is grabbing most of the headlines, with Antoine Griezmann providing enough support to his side whenever the need arises.
On the other side, Eden Hazard looks his old, dominating self, with Romelu Lukaku in the form of his life. The match, Khel Now reckons, will be won or lost in midfield. Alex Witsel or N’Golo Kante? Paul Pogba or Kevin De Bruyne? Width, or linearity?
This match brings reputational wars in the fray. Didier Deschamps, after the 2016 Euro final defeat, will be looking to make a mark with his national team, sans the ability of Karim Benzema. (Deschamps has been criticized in several quarters for not calling up the Real Madrid star). On the other hand, Roberto Martinez is looking to make amends for the defensive fragilities he showed at Everton.
This game is Pogba’s, or De Bruyne's. Pogba has a powerhouse in Kante, who never, NEVER, puts a foot wrong. In Witsel, De Bruyne has a capable transitional head. Attacking wise, both sides are almost equals.
Mbappe’s raw pace compared to Hazard’s creativity and Lukaku’s finishing compared to Olivier Giroud’s hold-up play are almost equals. Down the right, Dries Mertens lacks a little panache when compared to Atletico’s poster-boy Griezmann, but can be a world-beater on his day.
The backlines, too, look similar. In Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, Martinez has the calmness that they bring from Mauricio Pochettino. In Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane, France boast of arguably the most talented backline in the world. Thus, this one matches as well. Under the bar, Thibaut Courtois wins hands down, sorry Hugo Lloris.
The match will be played at Saint Petersburg’s Krestovsky Stadium (64,287 capacity). The stadium is the home of FC Zenit St. Petersburg in the Russian league.
France: Lloris, Pavard, Varane, Umtiti, Hernandez, Kante, Tolisso, Pogba, Mbappe, Giroud, Griezmann
What to Expect
Both these teams are brimming with attacking talent, so goals are guaranteed. With that said, it will likely come down to which side can win the midfield battle and take their chances in front of goal.
Les Bleus will stick to their tried and tested formula. Although, it will be interesting to see if, Belgium boss Martinez, who tweaked his formation so successfully against Brazil, resorts to utilizing any more tricks up his sleeve. France scored their first goal in the quarterfinal win against Uruguay from a free-kick. As such, with both teams boasting plenty of big men, set-pieces will be a key element of this match as well.
Khel Now Predicts
France 3-2 Belgium
Published: Tue Jul 10, 2018 05:38 PM IST