With the World Cup now all but done and dusted and in the history books, time to take a look at how things are standing in this year’s Golden Boot race. The Golden Boot is, of course, awarded to the player who has scored the most goals in the tournament proper, and has historically been won by some legendary players in football. Brazilian Ronaldo won it in 2002, for example, while the last English player to do so was Gary Lineker in 1986. This time around another Englishman is in the running – and no prizes for guessing which one! Harry Kane had a wonderful start to the campaign, and has netted six goals on England’s path to the semi-finals where they would eventually bow out to a superior Croatia side.
When Croatia and England were set up to meet in this summer’s second World Cup semi-final, both teams sensed a real opportunity to progress to the final. Either qualifying was always going to be a fantastic achievement, with Croatia having never reached a World Cup final and England having only done so once, 52 years ago. The English media, full of praise for the team for the first tournament in decades, fancied their chances against Zlatko Dalic’s men, while the latter saw a real opportunity to progress to the last match against France. Whatever was going to happen, this was a match being played by two nations incredibly proud of their teams.
When England crashed out of the 2018 World Cup at the semi-final stage, losing 2-1 to Croatia after extra time, a nation was silenced. The England fans, so vociferous in their support for the Three Lions on the shirt and the 11 heroic ones on the pitch, were left gutted. For this one glimmering summer, the optimism seemingly extinguished long ago started to flicker back into existence. Football was coming home, they thought. But it didn’t. However, instead of the usual what-ifs and why-didn’t-theys, this time the team left with their heads held high, falling against a side who, once they grew into the match, were simply the better team on the night.
France have booked their place in the first World Cup final in 12 years at this summer’s tournament. They overcame a talented Belgium side 1-0 to move to within 90 minutes of regaining the status of world champions. In Sunday’s Final they will come up against the winner of the other semi-final, contested between England and Croatia, and whichever side gets through to the biggest match in world football the French will go in as favourites – but needing star striker Antoine Griezmann to be on top form. Griezmann’s World Cup campaign so far has of course been decent – he has bagged three goals for himself while partnering arguably one of the stars of the show, Kylian Mbappe, through the youngster’s first senior international tournament.
As you will probably already know, Juventus have confirmed one of their biggest transfer deals since the likes of Gianluigi Buffon and Pavel Nedved signed for the Turin club back in 2001. They confirmed that Real Madrid’s Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo would be wearing the black and white stripes of the Old Lady next season, signing a four-year contract for a fee of around €105M. The deal ends his nine-year stay at the Bernabeu, where he moved from Manchester United in 2009 for a then-world record transfer fee of €94M. His time at Real was laden with glory, though he surprisingly only managed two La Liga titles. 15 trophies were won in total though, including four Champions League crowns, and now he turns the page on a new chapter in his career.
In the end France got there with a lot to spare. At the end of a 1-0 win over Belgium in St. Petersburg France have the chance to be world champions for only the second time in their history. The betting odds for France are looking good too, with them currently being at 4/6 to win. There’s a great deal of markets on at the moment and if you’re going to be putting your money on France, you may want to check out Top Football Tipster’s tips first to help you make a profit. You should also look at a few different betting sites to see who has the best offers on. But how are France looking after Tuesday’s semi final?
The scoreline may have indicated a tight and tense affair but in the end Didier Deschamps’ side held their opponents at a reasonable distance, Belgium failing to create anything of note as the minutes ticked away. This was as efficient and professional as a World Cup semifinal gets. Yet it seems odd that a team of such attacking talent is described in such terms.
France’s attacking lineup is as good as it gets at this World Cup: Kylian Mbappé, Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud and Paul Pogba and so much more. But they’re only ever seen in bits and pieces, flashes of inspired showing. It was Mbappé speeding past Jan Vertonghen in the first ten seconds like he didn’t exist; Pogba’s feint of body in the centre circle to leave Mousa Dembele in his wake and send Mbappé on his way with a through ball. Save for the seesaw game against Argentina in the Round of 16, which feels like ages ago, France aren’t in the final because of those moments of brilliance but for what they do best when the pressure is on.
France defend expertly well as a unit, marshalled by the relatively young but experienced duo of Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane and Barcelona’s Samuel Umtiti, who scored the winner here. When Thibaut Courtois complained of France being ‘anti-foootball’ in the aftermath of this game, perhaps he thought he had a point but instead he was spectacularly missing it. Deschamps, roundly criticised by many, isn’t interested in winning neutral hearts and plaudits, he simply wants to fashion a team that can win. The football may not be aesthetically pleasing to the purists but whatever argument or grouse pales in significance when set a cogent fact: France are in the final and are one win away from being champions.
Watching this France team can be a testing experience, a 90-minute show of complaining why a team that could potentially give more is playing within itself. Yet France have won all three knockout games with relative ease, all within 90 minutes, and they give the impression they play in the third or fourth gear. If you reach the final game of the world’s greatest sporting showpiece without necessarily being your best, the indictment is on the rest of the competition for failing to ask uncomfortable questions. France as a team have done their bit to win the World Cup, and should they be crowned on Sunday, they will be worthy winners regardless of questions over style or aesthetics.
When thinking about everything that has taken place during the Russian World Cup, one simply has to step back and give a round of applause to Belgium. Having been fancied ahead of the tournament kickoff, they secured their qualification from the group stages after just two games, before beating England – who had also qualified – to get into the knockout stages as group winners. While that all sounds great, things could have been more comfortable as that result meant that they entered the knockouts in the half bracket which included a host of former world champions such as Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina and France. Somehow, Roberto Martinez’s side have brushed off the pressure and breezed through to the semi-final, matching their best-ever finish at a World Cup.
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.
With the World Cup now having whittled itself down to its final four teams, it is now time to take a look at which midfielders have impressed the most over the past few days. This was a close-run thing this time, as the players played their hearts out in order to help the nation book a place in the World Cup semi-finals. Belgium were arguably the most impressive side in the last eight, overcoming tournament favourites Brazil. Their 2-0 win means they now face a date with destiny against neighbours France in the semi-final this week, with the French having also advanced past South American opposition when they disposed of Uruguay. With both sides now just two wins away from becoming world champions, much is at stake.
The semi-finals are almost here so Nicholas Carroll and Chloe Beresford are back to pick their best fantasy team of 11 from the four remaining teams at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.