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World Cup 2018 Predictions: Projecting Final Teams to Advance to Semis

Gianni Verschueren@ReverschPassFeatured ColumnistJuly 7, 2018

NIZHNY NOVGOROD, RUSSIA - JULY 06:  Lucas Torreira of Uruguay looks dejected France players celebrate the second goal scored by as Antoine Griezmann during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Quarter Final match between Uruguay and France at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium on July 6, 2018 in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Belgium and France are the two first two sides to have qualified for the semi-finals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, with two more tickets up for grabs on Saturday.

Croatia will be favoured to beat hosts Russia, and England will face Sweden, hoping to improve on their recent record against the Scandinavians.

Here's a look at the teams that have already qualified and the remaining contests:

France

Belgium

Russia vs. Croatia

England vs. Sweden

   

On paper, Saturday's fixtures appear a little more one-sided than Friday's matches. Croatia are clear favourites against hosts Russia, and England are expected to cruise past Sweden.

Both Sweden and Russia were unfancied coming into the tournament, although in the case of the Scandinavians, one has to wonder why. After qualifying ahead of the Netherlands and Italy and beating France in the qualifiers, they deserved a little more love from pundits and oddsmakers.

The side have already gone further than expected, and they have embraced the role of underdogs. They also know their record against the Three Lions is excellent, having lost just one of the teams' eight previous competitive meetings.

Richard Conway @richard_conway

"All the pressure is on England" Sweden mirror England given their cohesion and lack of visible ego. But there's a quiet confidence in the squad they will send Southgate's men home on Saturday night. Report from their Black Sea coast training base. https://t.co/Cryn8YwyMY

From a tactical point of view, the Swedes present a tricky matchup for England, who have struggled to be dangerous from the centre of the park and could thus have a hard time breaking down the Blagult defence.

Sweden do a great job on the counter and at set pieces, two areas where the Three Lions are not at their best defensively. In terms of pure talent, England have the advantage, but that hasn't accounted for much in this tournament.

Just ask Russia, the lowest-ranked team entering the World Cup who somehow beat 2010 champions Spain in the round of 16.

Granted, La Roja were in turmoil before the tournament began, switching managers two days before their first match. They were clearly out of sorts:

Miguel Delaney @MiguelDelaney

This is amazing, the madness and lack of organisation when Spain trying to pick peno takers against Russia, then Costa saying to Hierro about Koke “I told you” https://t.co/WYHBXT5aMd

But theoretically, the gap in talent should have been enough to prevail. Instead, backed by a vocal home crowd, Russia did the unthinkable to set up a quarter-final against Croatia.

The Croats won their first match in the knockout stages of any competition since 1998. Having overcome that massive hurdle, they will believe this could be their year.

Their midfield should overrun Russia's, but the hosts are more than willing to give up the ball in those spaces. This match could come down to the efficiency of the forwards, and the in-form Artem Dzyuba will like his chances against a beatable defence.

            

Predictions: Croatia and England reach the semi-finals, but at least one survives a real scare on the way.

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