France and Belgium will clash in a fight to secure a spot in the final of the 2018 World Cup tonight. Here are three key battles we think will be critical in determining the outcome of the match.
N’Golo Kanté v Hazard and De Bruyne
One of the things that makes Belgium such a scary proposition is the presence of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne in their side. On their day, they are arguably the two most creative players in the world’s most illustrious league in club football. They were both electric as the Red Devils stunned Brazil in last Friday’s quarter-final and man-of-the-match De Bruyne even managed to snatch the winner.
Roberto Martinez has been employing De Bruyne in a deeper midfield position in these finals, while Hazard also loves to drift inwards and get more involved centrally. This leaves the task of mitigating their danger primarily to Hazard’s Chelsea team-mate N’Golo Kanté. The French midfield dynamo will have to be at his absolute best if the Belgians are to be denied.
Kylian Mbappé v Jan Vertonghen
Kylian Mbappé’s form at the World Cup so far has mirrored that of his team, which serves to reflect just how integral he has become. The 19-year-old PSG frontman did not have the most scintillating start to the tournament, as Les Bleus almost stumbled out of their group. He, however, really started shifting through the gears in the knockout rounds and Didier Deschamps’ men followed suit and found their feet with convincing performances against Argentina and Uruguay.
Nacer Chadli is likely to keep his place as the left wing-back for Belgium after impressing against Brazil, but Jan Vertonghen is the man who is likely to find himself up against the teenager most often in the match. He has his work cut out for him.
French defence v Romelu Lukaku
If Romelu Lukaku came to the World Cup with a mission to change his detractors’ perception of him, he has done a pretty good job. He started the campaign with a glut of goals – four in the opening two matches. He sat out the final group game against England but returned to be even more central in the two knockout matches.
The Manchester United man was especially rampaging against Brazil, where he tortured the Samba defence with his strength and movement, particularly in the first half. If he maintains a similar level of performance against the French, their entire back-four will have to stay on their toes to ensure his influence is limited.
Do you think Mbappé will attain legendary status by leading France to the final, or will Lukaku and company have too much for the French backline? Click here to bet on the match.