Two teams have well surpassed expectations to reach where they are in the FIFA World Cup. Not many would have predicted Belgium and England to make it this far, especially with teams like Germany, Brazil, Argentina and Spain in the mix. Regardless of the scoreline, these two groups can go home with their heads held high.
Also, given that the matches will be played with a majority of players from the English Premier League, this is surely going to be a special occasion.
The Red Devils – Belgium
Roberto Martinez’s men have had a sensational run in the World Cup. They won all three matches in the group stage, bagging nine goals in the process. In the knockout stages, they had a thrilling encounter with Japan and a nervy win against Brazil. Their total goal haul in the tournament currently stands at 14 – the highest in this campaign.
Belgium couldn’t quite find their tempo and rhythm against a French side which thwarted and broke down any movement they tried to get going. However, most teams would face the same issue against a midfield duo of Pogba and Kante.
It wasn’t all down to the France’s superiority; some of the Belgian players have had to shoulder the blame of their loss. Lukaku was largely ineffective in a game which exposed just how isolated he can be when he doesn’t receive enough service, and when not actively trying to assert himself. Kevin De Bruyne also didn’t have the best game of his campaign– the creative spark that once burnt so bright seems to have dwindled to a faint glow. Fellaini who managed to pocket Neymar in the match before, was outmuscled and outplayed by his club teammate Pogba.
“I prefer to lose with Belgium than to win with France” – is what captain Eden Hazard had to say after the match. Belgium’s star player worked tirelessly against France, trying to create opportunities single handedly but to no avail. Despite his passion and fire, he didn’t receive the support he deserved on that day. As long as his fine form continues, England are going to have a torrid time handling this Red Devil.
If Belgium can find the same form they had against Brazil, they should be able to outplay their European neighbours. However, if key players continue to underperform, we might see these Devils bow out at fourth place.
The Three Lions – England
The last England team to have reached the semi finals boasted the likes of Peter Shilton, Bryan Robson, John Barnes, Gary Lineker and Paul Gascoigne, to name a few. The 1990 England squad’s combined International Cap was 705. The 2018 squad has a combined International Cap of 482. The disparity in experience is vast. And yet they managed to replicate what the golden generation before them never could.
Youth, determination, hard work and tenacity are the embodiment of this young squad. They are not yet world class stars who could waltz in to any top team in the world. Being the second youngest squad (average age of 26), this is a developing team that will only get better with more exposure and experience in international tournaments.
On a good day, the defensive pairing of Stones and Maguire are tough to beat. Their combined strength, intelligence, and pace could go head to head with the tournament’s best forwards. However, as seen in their recent match, they lack the mental grit to see out games, and are susceptible to mistakes (Kyle Walker, that includes you).
Although not short on attacking midfielders, England lack a creative genius in the middle. Someone who would operate similarly as Modric does for Croatia. Henderson is a good defensive holding midfielder, though he lacks the vision to consistently seek gaps and find that much needed defense splitting pass.
Players like Lingard and Dele can produce moments of brilliance, but they need more consistency in their game. Sterling has pace to burn, but his judgement and decision making in the final third have proven costly for his country. Perhaps it is time for the manager to try Rashford on for 90 minutes. I mean, it’s not like he has anything to lose at this stage, given that they’ve already exceeded expectations at this point.
Captain Harry Kane is at the front of the Golden Boot race, and will most likely seal his personal victory against Belgium (unless Lukaku scores a hat-rick). Ending the campaign as the top scorer will definitely boost his global profile.
England has a bright future ahead of them if they can maintain the passion, desire and teamwork displayed this World Cup. Their players will naturally continue to grow in ability and mentality, making them a team to watch out in the next major international tournament.
Catch Belgium VS England on the 14th of July at 11pm +8 GMT for the third place play-off!
And on Sunday, catch Croatia VS France as they battle for the title on the 15th of July at 11pm +8 GMT!