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France v Belgium: Four key head-to-head battles

10 July 2018

Though a very different player from the elegant Frenchman, the powerfully built Lukaku showed a touch of Henry in his intelligent dummy that allowed the ball to run through to Nacer Chadli to score Belgium's victor in the thrilling come-from-behind 3-2 win over Japan in the last 16. Les Bleus needed three-second half goals to edge Argentina, but it looked like a team on a mission against Uruguay, showcasing the potential that made it a pre-tournament favorite just behind Germany and Brazil.

The Red Devils breezed past Panama and Tunisia as expected before earning a third group win against England with a reasonably comfortable 1-0 victory. But, Roberto Martinez's men have shown a lot of determination and character in the knockout rounds. It was all over Brazil and Belgium to win in regulation in the round of 16.

For the first time in hislife, Thierry Henry will want France to lose.

Both sides know what is like to turn results around during the current World Cup campaign. And there is clearly a sense of apprehension from his former 1998 team-mate, Didier Deschamps.

France have the luxury of having a fully fit side and Blaise Matuidi is back from suspension after missing out against Uruguay.

It remains to be seen whether Martinez repeats that ploy against the French.

Lukaku led the counter-attack which led to Belgium's second goal against Brazil in the quarter-final and also set up their victor against Japan in the second round with an astute, unselfish dummy.

N'Golo Kante vs. Witsel and Marouane Fellaini aren't adept at stopping quick interchanges, and so the thought of Olivier Giroud's excellent lay-offs, Griezmann's brilliant space-creating passes, and Mbappe's speed should terrify Belgian fans.

For me, there is no doubt as to which one will be the bigger hazard to opposing defences. But, the star man has been Benjamin Pavard, who will look to keep an in-form Eden Hazard quiet on Tuesday. With no natural replacement in his squad, the Belgium manager will have to bank on the duo of Nacer Chadli and Yannick Carrasco to be his wing-backs.

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What will he think when La Marseillaise is played on Tuesday in the St Petersburg stadium before a World Cup semifinal?

An intriguing battle this will be down England's right flank.

Goldman has used machine learning to simulate how it thinks the World Cup will play out, but has frequently adjusted its forecasts because of the unpredictable nature of the tournament. Hazard has been a key figure in Belgium's free-scoring approach.

Romelu Lukaku (second left) and Eden Hazard (right) face off against Antoine Griezmann (left) and Kylian Mbappé (second right) as Belgium and France meet in the first of the FIFA World Cup 2018 semifinals. It also correctly predicted draws for Spain-Russia (+280) and Croatia-Denmark (+225).

The semi-final on Tuesday will be the 74th meeting between France and Belgium.

Belgium are unbeaten in their last 24 matches in all competitions, winning 19 and drawing five.

Confidence is sky-high after they ousted Neymar's Brazil in the quarter-finals but they will come up against formidable opponents in France as they try to reach a first ever World Cup final.

In terms of pedigree, France have what it takes to go all the way, while Belgium have the skills, both have beaten some of the best en route and, statistically, the Red Devils hold the upper hand.

France v Belgium: Four key head-to-head battles