As France prepare for their World Cup semi-final clash with Belgium on Tuesday evening, all eyes will be on Saint Petersburg as they battle it out for a place in the 2018 World Cup Final. While Belgium will of course be no pushovers the French are likely to be slight favourites going into the game. Both teams have claimed major scalps in this tournament, with France having eliminated Uruguay and Belgium overcame Brazil to get to this stage. The Belgian national team are enjoying a golden age, however, with several world class players among their ranks. Interestingly enough, the last time Belgium got this far in a World Cup tournament was in Mexico in 1986. They lost 2-0 to Argentina in the semi-final – before losing the third place playoff to France.
This, then, offers Roberto Martinez’s men a chance for some revenge for that defeat. France have since gone on to win the World Cup in 1998, and finished runners-up in 2006 when Italy emerged as champions on penalties. The thing is, during the group stages Belgium looked the better of the two teams, but France have really kicked things up in the knockout round, also eliminating Argentina to get this far. One of the key components in France’s squad is their defence, and so it will come as little surprise that Raphael Varane earns the accolade for this week’s best defender. He scored one of the goals that sent Uruguay home, which is always a positive trait for a player at the back of course. However, what has been more important has been his physical presence in front of Hugo Lloris.
The clean sheet against Uruguay added to two in three games at the group stages. Only Argentina have been able to break them down on more than one occasion – but the French forward lined turned it up on that occasion and won 4-3. Australia were the only other side who have been able to score against them thus far, and Varane’s partnerships with the likes of Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard have proven particularly fruitful. Pavard has also found the net in this tournament (in the win over Argentina) and so seeing a French defender getting up and scoring has not been a completely unusual sight. That is largely due to the flexibility at the back, with players able to advance up the pitch knowing they are covered, though that could be exploited if done correctly.
The Real Madrid defender will be keen to get a medal around his neck after a trophyless season at the Bernabeu – what better medal to get than one stating you are a World Cup winner?
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