It comes down to four teams remaining in Russia. Two former winners, and two newcomers looking for their first title. What could possibly happen next at the 2018 FIFA World Cup?
While it has been quite the tournament in Russia, no one could have predicted the semi-finals turning out like they did. As typical of any European World Cup, no South American team advanced past the quarter-final stage. Only four European teams remain, and not all of them are traditional choices. However, it was quite the quarterfinals to remember. Belgium achieved a historic 2-1 victory over favorites Brazil, France took down Uruguay 2-0, England ended the Swedish fairy tale, dispatching them 2-0, and Croatia broke Russian hearts after winning their penalty shootout 4-3.
It is the emergence of new names that make this tournament so beautiful. For example, France’s Kylian Mbappe has been sensational throughout the tournament. England’s Harry Kane looks like the favorite to win the Golden Boot, and the Belgians golden generation look poised to win it all.
Let’s begin with the two former winners.
“Les Bleus” find themselves in a World Cup semi-final for the first time since the 2006 edition of the tournament in Germany. While still a young team, the French posses a nice combination of youth and experience. Perhaps even possessing the most talented squad on paper. However, the French know it will take more than skill to win this tournament. The veterans must provide the backbone of leadership.
As a matter of fact, captain Hugo Lloris, Antoine Griezmann, and Paul Pogba are just a few of the stars that France relies on as leaders as well. Meanwhile, manager Didier Dechamps has done well-managing egos and skill in a wonderful 4-2-3-1 lineup. Expect much of the same when his team faces the golden generation of Belgium in the semis.
Ahhh yes, the “Red Devils” of Belgium. Such promise for so many years has led them to this point. While this group has been dubbed the golden generation of players, they have had their fair share of failure. For example, crashing out of Euro 2016 at the quarter-final stage to Wales, or perhaps coming into the tournament not showing enough effort. Whatever the case was, the narrative is different this time around.
At the helm of it all is manager Roberto Martinez, who has this team believing it can achieve the ultimate goal, a World Cup title. Indeed, the weight of expectation looms over this group, but there is no denying how talented this collection of Belgium players truly are. Led on the back line by captain Vincent Kompany, this is a strong team overall. A powerful attack with Romelu Lukaku, strong midfielders in Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, the aforementioned defensive stalwart in Kompany, and towering keeper Thibuat Courtouis.
Martinez will be in good hands in his usual 4-3-3 lineup. The time is now for Belgium. I predict the golden generation makes the World Cup Final after defeating France 2-1.
On to the other side of the bracket. The Three Lions are in a World Cup semi-final for the first time since 1990. After years of disappointment, the English fans believe once again. It has been nothing but positive since manager Gareth Southgate took over at the helm. Now he has England within reach of the World Cup Final. Keep in mind, England hasn’t won the tournament since 1966. However, the dream is very much alive. It will be tough, but this group of young players are playing as free as they can. Regardless of the outcome against Croatia, this batch of England players are returning home as heroes.
Perhaps with one of the most versatile lineup options among the remaining teams, Southgate will most likely go with his 3-1-4-2 formation. As per the usual, Tottenham’s Harry Kane will look to spearhead the attack for England. Expect the Three Lions to come out and play fearless. They have already outdone England’s so-called golden generation of a decade ago.
Croatia beware. This England team is far from done. And they are no pushovers by any means.
Finally the last of the remaining teams. After outlasting hosts Russia in a penalty shootout, Croatia finds themselves back at a World Cup semi-final for the first time since 1998. Led by captain Luka Modric and star midfield partner Ivan Rakitic, this Croatian side is very dangerous indeed. A stout defense coupled with a powerful midfield attack, and that’s a winning formula. While the Russians gave them all they could handle, England is a far different beast. Look for Croatia’s 4-2-3-1 formation to spread out as they look to handle the English attack.
It will be a dogfight between both squads. Can Juventus forward Mario Mandzukic out duel Harry Kane? Can Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard break through Modric, Rakitic, and the Croatian defense? Who will be the better keeper? Pickford or Subasic? One thing is certain. Expect a great match between these two. In the end, Croatia has put together a great run, but this England side looks too powerful for them to handle.
Prediction: Both teams go the distance and England advances after a penalty shootout.
World Cup Final prediction: England vs. Belgium.
Third Place Match: France vs. Croatia.
Regardless of the outcome after these semi-finals conclude, it’s nice to see some new contenders join the fray. South Africa 2010 saw a new team lift the trophy as Spain’s golden generation lifted the trophy. Perhaps, once again, a new team will reign supreme this year. Or a long overdue past winner will be adding a star to their jersey in Moscow come Sunday evening.