A World Cup final place is the prize on Tuesday night when France and Belgium lock horns in St Petersburg. Ben Levene (@benlevene96) shares his best bets.
France v Belgium | Tuesday 10th July 2018, 19:00 | BBC
We edge closer to Sunday’s haven of Moscow. Tournament favourites France overcame another South American contender when they beat Uruguay 2-0.
Prior to Raphael Varane’s opener, La Celeste made life tough for France. Neither side were particularly fluent, but France were on the side of good fortune, and then managed the game well from there.
A similar explanation could be used to describe Belgium’s 2-1 defeat of Brazil. A first-half Fernandinho own-goal awarded Belgium the luxury of exploiting Tite’s side on the counter. Roberto Martinez’s overdue decision to move Kevin De Bruyne forward paid dividends as he doubled their lead.
Tough to call
To be quite honest, I’m happy to admit I find it difficult to separate this duo. There are a lot of similarities between the pair. To get this far, both sides have shown they are capable. Between them, they’ve eliminated potential winners. Likewise, they are both suited to playing on the counter.
As a result, at the prices I’m going to be with Belgium with the draw on side. We can get them at 5/4 in the Draw no Bet market. If we take the draw out of the equation, I wouldn’t give France a 56% chance. I’d have them marginal favourites, but to a smaller extent.
Since 1998 just one of ten World Cup semi-finals has been won by more than the single goal. I don’t expect that to change here.
Harry Kane aside, in Antoine Griezman, Kylian Mbappe, Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, and Kevin De Bruyne we are going to have arguably the five most capable attacking players remaining in the tournament on the pitch at once.
It could come down to individual moments, and I wouldn’t be backing against it coming from either Hazard or De Bruyne. Part of that can be attributed to Marouane Fellaini.
Alongside Axel Witsel he will do all the nasty stuff, and act as platform for Hazard and De Bruyne to get on the ball. We saw him stop Neymar by all means possible, and Fellaini will do the same to stop France’s key-man, Griezmann.
Unsurprisingly, no Belgium player averages more fouls per game than Fellaini this tournament. As well as Griezmann, Paul Pogba is the 2nd most fouled player remaining in the competition.
Yellow cards have been wiped, and should the cards flow, I fully expect Fellaini to pick one up. He’s 7/4 to do so with Bet365.
The most fouled player this tournament is Eden Hazard. Now he’s been joined by Kevin De Bruyne in the middle of the park, Belgium’s biggest threats are operating close to each other.
N’golo Kante will have his hands full, but it’s Fellaini's Man Utd teammate, Paul Pogba, who offers the card value at 27/10 (Bet Victor). The midfielder ranks well for both tackles and fouls. At the top level he’s been prone to a lapse in concentration, so don’t be surprised to see him scampering to recover against a counter-attacking Belgium.
Belgium can pull it off
The formation tinker really has changed the dynamics for Belgium. The main question mark posed against them was the manager. Martinez has reacted.
With a flat-back four and two-holding midfielders in front, the Red Devils might be able to forge together a performance capable of frustrating the French frontline.
France v Belgium – Belgium Draw no Bet (5/4 Marathon)
France v Belgium – Marouane Fellaini to be carded (7/4 Bet365)
France v Belgium – Paul Pogba to be carded (27/10 Bet Victor)