2018 FIFA World Cup Semifinals Preview

We have now entered the final week of the biggest and greatest sporting event on the planet, the FIFA World Cup. The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia has been fantastic, filled with many surprises and exciting story lines. Now we have four teams remaining, this means we have four games remaining games at this World Cup; two semifinals, one third place match and one finals match. So each of the four teams are guaranteed two more matches at this World Cup. The remaining four teams all come from Europe and they are Belgium, Croatia, England and France.

France vs Belgium                             2PM ET, June 10th, 2018, Saint Petersburg, Russia

In the first semifinals matchup it is neighboring European countries France and Belgium facing off for a spot in the World Cup finals. France will be looking to get back to the finals of the World Cup for the first time since 2006, while Belgium have already matched their best result from 1986 where they finished fourth. France had a shaky start to the World Cup but they have proved in their last two games that they can beat the top teams of the world after beating Argentina and Uruguay. Their quarterfinal win against Uruguay was their best complete game played so far, showing both offensive and defensive capabilities of this team. Belgium look to be on the brink of elimination in their round of 16 match against Japan when they went down 2-0 early in the second half, but they came roaring back to win that game 3-2 in regulation which included a 94th minute winner. Then their best performance of the tournament came against in their 2-1 quarterfinal win against Brazil. Belgium had a 2-0 lead against, which most considered prior to the tournament, the favorites of the tournament within the first 30 minutes of the game. Brazil put on heavy pressure on this Belgium side; even with conceding a goal late in the second half against Brazil they were able to with stand that pressure and prevail at the end. Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois had a monster performance, showing the world why he is one of the best in his position. Belgium’s win against Brazil showed that this team has character and they showed maturity, something they lacked at EURO 2016 and at the previous World Cup in 2014. Both teams come into this game coming off their best game, so we are in for an exciting match. With this in mind, this match is very difficult to predict. Both sides are great going forward with Belgium’s Eden Hazard and France’s Kylian Mbappe headlining the attack, both sides also have excellent keepers; these are the two areas where both teams are pretty equal. The midfield would have to go in favor of the French; Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Blaise Matuidi will be too strong and too physical for Belgium’s midfield which consists of Kevin De Bruyne, Alex Witsel and Marouane Fellaini. This game will come down to which team’s defense will shows up as both defenses have been up and down throughout the tournament. Defense will be one of the major factors in winning this game. Nevertheless expect a great match from these two talented teams.

Prediction: France 2-1

Croatia vs England                           2PM ET, June 11th, 2018, Moscow, Russia

In the other semifinals Croatia take on England for a spot in the World Cup finals. Both teams have not reached the semifinals of the World Cup since the 1990’s; England last did it in 1990 while Croatia did it at their first ever World Cup in 1998. Croatia got here after playing two straight matches of 120 minutes against Denmark in the round of 16 and against Russia in the quarterfinals; both games went to penalty shootout where the Croats prevailed both times to get here. England got here after beating a James Rodriguez-less Colombia team on penalties and beating a tough defensive Sweden team 2-0 in 90 minutes in the quarterfinals. England has something to their advantage in this match up and that is rest. Croatia have had to play 240 minutes in their last two games, which is a concern for Croatia’s coaching staff with only three full resting days until the game against England. England has been the best team when it comes to scoring off set pieces at the World Cup; 8 out of their 11 goals scored have come from set pieces. That is one area where England will look to continue to take advantage of; this is an area where Croatia will have to be very careful with, whenever England has a corner or a set piece in dangerous territory. Harry Kane has been on fire in this World Cup, he is the current leading goal scorer at the World Cup with six goals; Croatia’s defense will have their hands full defending Kane. Croatia will look to use its creative midfield to their advantage in this game; with Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakitić headlining Croatia’s midfield they will have the quality to take control in the middle of the field. With the substitution of Marcelo Brozović in the 63rd in the game against Russia, Croatia looked more balanced and stabilized in the midfield. Brozović provides an extra cover in the midfield which gives Rakitić and especially Modrić freedom to push up the field, so expect the midfield of Modrić-Rakitić-Brozović to start the game for Croatia. There is an injury concern for Croatia as defender Šime Vrsaljko is questionable for the game against England, more info to come as we get close to game day. This game will depend on if Croatia is able to control on the midfield. By looking at the quality of players in the midfield on both teams, Croatia definitely have the advantage here. If Croatia is not able to take control in the midfield, England will be able to free up their wing backs that will then be able to provide even more crosses in the box for their star striker Harry Kane. With Kane’s current form, it is hard not to look for him when he is in the opposing penalty box.

Prediction: Croatia 2-1   

Dino Pavleka: @dino_ATL

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