In the first semi-final of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, European giants France and Belgium face off in Saint Petersburg.
Both sides topped of their respective groups but have encountered difficulties getting within 90 minutes of the Moscow finale.
France played out a thrilling 4-3 victory over Argentina in the round of 16 before comfortably beating Uruguay in the quarter-finals.
Meanwhile, Belgium also took part in a superb last 16 clash as they came from two goals down to beat Japan before knocking out Brazil in the quarters.
The winner of this tie will be favourites to win the whole competition. They will face off against Croatia or England who play in the other semi-final tomorrow.
Here are a few things to look out for this evening.
Mbappe – Fit or Not?
Kylian Mbappe has scored three goals during his debut World Cup campaign. His performances justify his place on the big stage.
But, after sitting out training yesterday, questions have been raised. Will the young star be fully fit to take on Belgium? Les Bleus boss Didier Deschamps played down Mbappe’s absence from training and it will be a shock if the PSG forward isn’t in the French starting lineup later on.
The 19-year-old has come into his element during the knockout stages. Especially in ‘that’ game against Argentina.
Every run was met with fear by the defence. Despite any injury concerns this time around, we can expect Mbappe to go full steam ahead at his opposite number once again.
Belgium manager Roberto Martinez admitted the enormous challenge stopping Mbappe. He said to ESPN: “I don’t think there’s an easy answer for that (stopping him) because Mbappe is an exceptional player under those circumstances.”
Belgium’s Golden Generation To Falter?
In their first semi-final since 1986, will Belgium – and their ‘Golden Generation’ of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku et al – fall with two hurdles remaining?
As mentioned earlier, they showed their mettle with a brilliant comeback against Japan. They then beat Brazil to set up a date with the French.
France’s lineup is impressive. They have the firepower of Griezmann, Mbappe, Giroud and rather solid back line of Umtiti and Varane. You won’t see many sticking their heads on the line and saying, “France is definitely winning this one.” That’s because this Belgium side deserves, and has got, respect.
They looked down and out against the Blue Samurai but bounced back when the odds were against them.
Brazil were favourites to knock out the Red Devils in the last round but Tite’s men were sent packing.
There has been talk of a change to a flat back four following the suspension of wing back Thomas Meunier. In that case, then Belgium will need to adapt quickly or this France side, as shown against Argentina, can wreak havoc in a short space of time.
Busier Evening For Varane and Umtiti
The quarter-final between France and Uruguay was a bit of a non-event compared to the Argentina clash.
With Edinson Cavani uninvolved, Les Bleus crowded Luis Suarez out of the game. Cristhian Stuani, on the other hand, had no input on proceedings whatsoever.
It was a job well done by Varane and Umtiti at the back, with the former getting on the scoresheet with a great header from a Griezmann free-kick.
We won’t expect a similar walk in the park for the two giant centre-halves tonight.
Lukaku was mostly ineffective against Japan. But his dummy for Nacer Chadli to tuck home the winner was a ‘non’-touch of genius.
He had a superb game against Brazil despite not getting on the scoresheet and with a World Cup final berth at stake, the Manchester United striker will be as hungry as ever. It will take a lot of hard work from Varane and Umtiti to keep him quiet.