The stage is set for Belgium versus France and England versus Croatia in the 2018 World Cup semifinals. Most sportsbooks have Belgium winning the first match and England narrowly beating Croatia in the second. The oddsmakers’ predictions are an accurate reflection of how both sides of the bracket have played out.
If you look at Belgium and France’s side, the games were more decisive. There haven’t been any penalty shootouts on that side. France beat Argentina 4-3 and then Uruguay 2-0. Belgium defeated Japan 3-2 and then Brazil 2-0. This tells us that this side of the tournament has been much stronger offensively. There is absolutely no room for error and neither side is looking to take any chances with penalties. For example, after going down 0-2 to Japan, Belgium fought back to 2-2 with seconds remaining. They could’ve held up play and went to extra time, but instead, they forced a quick counter and scored the deciding goal while leaving Japan no time to answer back. France did something similar with Argentina in that they kept their foot on the gas and went up 4-2. At this stage, you don’t want to leave the game up to fate in penalties.
The other side of the bracket has seen multiple penalty shootouts. Croatia’ last 2 games against Denmark and Russia were won in shootouts. England went to penalties against Colombia. This doesn’t necessarily mean the teams are any better or worse, but there is less a sense of urgency. While both Croatia and England have the pieces to pull off a victory, the competition seems to be getting more difficult. Croatia’s best game was against Argentina where they won 3-0. If they can repeat this performance, it should be an easy win over England.
France and Belgium’s game is first. For Belgium, it’ll be Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku leading the charge. It will be interesting to see if Marouane Fellaini and Nacir Chadli start again. Eden Hazard still has yet to make a significant impact, so perhaps he will do so against the French. Belgium also has arguably the best keeper of the tournament. Couple that with their strong defense and you’ve got a recipe for success.
France has finally come into their own and seems to be flying. Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann are playing well together. Olivier Giroud has been phenomenal throughout the World Cup. His linkup with the other forwards is something to applaud. Paul Pogba is another standout player that brings a lot to the table. Expect these 4 to be a part of any scoring effort.
Croatia’s Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic have played well in this World Cup. Mandzukic provided a wonderful assist in the Russia game, showcasing his other abilities besides scoring. For Croatia, their midfield helps take control of the game and provide service to the forwards. When it comes to England, they also have a solid offensive core. However, they are better off converting penalties and free kicks. Harry Kane can score from just about anywhere, but Croatia’s defense may be able to keep him in their pocket.
We predict Belgium to go through, but it will certainly be a battle. On the other side, Croatia looks like the better pick. They have the momentum to stop England’s heroic run in this tournament.