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France v Belgium: World Cup semi-final, European battle of world stars

10 Jul 2018, 09:53

NTV Online

It has been billed as the ‘derby between pals’.

Tuesday’s World Cup semi-final pits 1998 winners France against the ‘golden generation’ from neighbours Belgium, reports the BBC.

Both teams were among the pre-tournament favourites, but only one can reach Sunday’s final in Moscow.

Victory would set up a showpiece against Croatia or England - who meet on Wednesday - but who will progress?

BBC Sport takes a look at a fascinating battle both on and off the pitch.

In players such as Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba, these sides boast some of the world’s most devastating attacking players.

But their managers utilise the quality at their disposal in different ways.

France boss Didier Deschamps - who is aiming to emulate Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer by winning the World Cup as both a player and manager - has often been criticised for failing to get the most out of his squad.

Functionality, rather than flair, has been the key so far in Russia. They needed a late own goal in their opening match against Australia, edged past Peru 1-0 in their second, then played out a dull goalless draw with Denmark.

They did impress in beating Argentina 4-3 in the last 16, but that kind of open game is not Deschamps’ style.

‘If you are looking for 5-0, don’t come to a World Cup, you won’t get this,’ he said.

While Deschamps has not always garnered positive headlines, Martinez’s spell as Belgium manager has been almost flawless.

A surprise appointment, taking the job three months after being sacked by Everton, he has had a big impact.

He has not tasted defeat in a competitive game as Belgium boss, his last loss in a non-friendly match the Toffees’ 3-0 defeat by Sunderland in May 2016.

Martinez has overseen a run of 19 wins and five draws, culminating in an impressive 2-1 victory over Brazil in the quarter-finals.

Belgium’s haul of 14 goals is the most at this stage of a World Cup since 2002, when eventual winners Brazil had 15.

Speaking after that game, former England captain Alan Shearer said: ‘The big question about Belgium was ‘are you a team of individuals or can you come together as a team?’ He has gelled them together.

‘That has got to come from the manager. There is a huge difference between where they are now and where they were two years ago.’

England know all about having a ‘golden generation’ of players.

Theirs failed to win any international silverware, but Belgium’s are on course to win the biggest prize of all.

The Red Devils won all of their games in the group stage and came from 2-0 down to beat Japan in the last 16 before that superb quarter-final showing against the five-time champions.

They exited at the quarter-final stage of both the 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship, so is time running out for this talented crop of players?

‘It is important for everyone to understand that Belgium has a population of 11 million and the current generation of players did not happen by accident,’ said Martinez.

‘There is a very clear structure within professional football in Belgium. It is a country focused on developing its young talent.

‘We can only be ourselves and we already have time to use this World Cup as an advantage with the newest generations.’

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