France have conceded only three goals on the way to the semi-finals, and the central defensive pair snuffed out the attacking threat of Luis Suarez in the quarter-final against Uruguay, barely allowing him a touch in the penalty area. A very different threat approaches in Lukaku, who has scored 4 goals in 4, only 2 behind Golden Boot leader Harry Kane. The Belgian forward will no doubt be eager to stake a claim on the award with a few goals in this game.
France and Belgium have a long history, facing each other 73 times in total. France have won 24 of the meetings, with Belgium taking 30 victories, leaving 19 draws between them.
The last time France and Belgium played each other, however, was on 7 June 2015 at the Stade de France outside Paris. At that time in 2015, Samuel Umtiti, Benjamin Pavard, Lucas Hernandez, Corentin Tolisso, Ousmane Dembele and Kylian Mbappe had yet to earn their first French cap.
None of the four semi-finalists from the 2014 World Cup have made it to this stage this time around, in part thanks to these two teams; France defeated Argentina in the ‘Round of 16’, in a thrilling 4-3 game, and Belgium scraped by Brazil in the last round, winning 2-1 after an early Fernandinho own-goal, as well as a rocket from de Bruyne.
“We are on an equal footing with France,” said Kevin De Bruyne, who scored the crucial second goal, which just so happened to be the winning goal, in Belgium’s quarter-final win over Brazil. “We will try and do everything we can physically and mentally. That’s all we can do. At the end, you do all you can to win and if they’re better, they’re better. That’s football.”
Roberto Martinez’s side are the tournament’s top scorers so far, with 14 goals. The last team to have scored that many goals prior to the semi-final stage was Brazil in 2002…and of course they went on to become champions that year. A good omen for Belgium?
With heaps of talent on both sides of the pitch, the game will come down to tactics and mentality as well as raw talent, which both teams have in abundance. France coach, Didier Deschamps, has led the national team in over 3x more international matches than his counterpart, Martinez. Deschamps being their longest-standing manager ever, Les Bleus have won 51 games, drawn 15, and lost 15 under his tutelage, including a loss in the final at Euro 2016, whilst Belgium under Martinez have an astounding record of 19 wins, 5 draws, and 1 loss since he took over in August of 2016. A 63% vs 76% win rate, albeit over different scales.
Regardless of result, a European team will win the World Cup this year. So much for World Cup /s. 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.