France and Belgium will face-off in the first World Cup semi-final on Tuesday as the highest ranked team left in the competition take on the favourites.
Les Blues are the bookmakers’ tip to win the competition after ousting South American pair Argentina and Uruguay in the knock-out stage.
The Red Devils meanwhile have the only 100% record in the tournament and saw off Brazil in the quarter-finals in impressive fashion.
The battle between two of the best midfielders at this World Cup semi-final could critical to the final outcome. Many believe Kante could scoop the player of the tournament award after playing a key role in-front of the French back-four.
Finally a balance between himself and Paul Pogba has been struck to allow the Chelsea man to be combative, and give the record Manchester United signing freedom to go forward.
N’Golo Kante vs Kevin de Bruyne
Many believe Kante could scoop the player of the tournament award after playing a key role in-front of the French back-four. Finally a balance between himself and Paul Pogba has been struck to allow the Chelsea man to be combative, and give the record Manchester United signing freedom to go forward.
Meanwhile, De Bruyne started the tournament in a deep role but reverted to a more attacking guise against Brazil, with deadly affect. His thumping goal proved to be the winner in Kazan but with the license to play the role of creator Belgium are a totally different prospect going forward.
Raphael Varane vs Eden Hazard
The Real Madrid centre-back is another player of the tournament contender. Having recovered from a string of injuries in the last few years he is finally performing at a level many expected.
The combination of pace, strengthen and positional awareness makes him arguably the best all-round defender in the world, and that showed as he bullied Luis Suarez in the quarter-final.
Hazard meanwhile might have enjoyed a quiet tournament thus far but against Brazil he showed flashes of the quality we seldom saw during last season’s Premier League campaign.
Questions still remains over his ability to perform on the very biggest of stages, but his quarter-final showing suggests he could be coming into form at just the right time.
If Varane is asked to pick up Hazard – his pace and power suggests he might be – then it will be a fascinating battle in the Belgian final third. The Chelsea winger’s strength is having time to turn and run at defenders and if Varane gives him the opportunity to do just that, France could be in danger.
Didier Deschamps vs Roberto Martinez
Perhaps the most important battle in the World Cup semi-final could come off the pitch between two of the most chastised figures prior to this World Cup. Both men were ready to be savaged upon their respective nations failing in this World Cup.
Tactically naïve, lacking man-management skills and laying the ground work for a mid-summer mutiny were among the various accusations.
The reality has been somewhat different. France have grown into the tournament well and having nervously bypassed an easy-looking group, the wins over Argentina and Uruguay were impressive.
Deschamps’ main achievement has been balancing his attack and midfield to get the best out of his star players. Pogba has been titanic at times, while Kylian Mbappe’s status as a teenage superstar has been underlined.
Belgium were accused of being under-cooked ahead of the tournament after playing some below-par opponents in the lead up to the summer, but they have proven everyone wrong en route to the last four.