Having both secured their seats at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia table until next weekend’s fight for medals, France and Belgium now have to see who will be pursuing gold and who is left searching for bronze. A potentially career-crowning Final is as little as an hour and a half of football away.
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.
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.
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.