France and Belgium now have to see who will be pursuing gold and who is left searching for bronze as the first semi final of the 2018 FIFA World Cup holds this evening here at the St Petersburg Stadium.
The ticket is just an hour and a half of football away from a potentially career-crowning final football showpiece on Sunday in Moscow
The pair arrived with high hopes but outsiders had their doubts about whether the two extravagant jigsaws comprised of stupendous talent could be pieced together in time for a true assault on the Final.
While defensive doubts have arisen – against Argentina and Japan respectively – both have stood firm, with Belgium now enjoying their best major tournament since Mexico 1986.
The Red Devils will be without a key – if less flashy – part of their puzzle against France, with Thomas Meunier picking up a second booking prior to them being wiped for the semi-finals. Les Bleus will however be buoyed by the return of Blaise Matuidi, after sitting out a suspension of his own.
Belgium’s Coach Roberto Martinez may be willing to switch to a classic 4-4-2 approach, without Meunier to call upon, to adapt to the French. If so, Nacer Chadli may start on the right, with Yannick Carrasco returning on the opposite flank. The Red Devils are looking readier than ever physically, psychologically and in their football to prove that their “golden generation” moniker is justified.
Les Bleus impressed against Argentina through offensive flair, and against Uruguay by their unit’s solidity.
Now, they need to beat the most spectacular team of the tournament so far. Belgium’s biggest threat: Eden Hazard. France’s solution: Ngolo Kante. This clash between the Chelsea team-mates (and two of the best players of the competition) will likely be key to the result.
France haven’t met any side more often than Belgium, having played them on 74 occasions. However, they have only met twice at the World Cup, with their last meeting coming in the third-place match at Mexico 1986, and have played each other in just eight friendlies since.