World Cup Bracket 2018: Updated Tournament Predictions Entering Semifinals

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJuly 8, 2018

TOPSHOT - France's forward Antoine Griezmann (L) celebrates his goal with France's forward Kylian Mbappe during the Russia 2018 World Cup quarter-final football match between Uruguay and France at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium in Nizhny Novgorod on July 6, 2018. (Photo by Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP)        (Photo credit should read DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images)

The 2018 FIFA World Cup field is down to four teams, with France, Belgium, Croatia and England all one victory away from the final.

The tournament's official Twitter account shared an updated bracket of the knockout stages after Saturday's quarterfinals:

FIFA World Cup 🏆 @FIFAWorldCup

And then, there was four... TUE: #FRABEL WED: #CROENG #WorldCup https://t.co/a9q9bNx9oe

Seeing Brazil, Spain and Germany flame out of the World Cup has helped freshen things up a bit.

Croatia and Belgium have never finished better than third and fourth, respectively. Even an England or France triumph would be exciting. The latter haven't won the World Cup for 20 years, and they have made the final once since, losing on penalties to Italy in 2006. England are in the semifinals for the first time since 1990.

And based on how the knockout stages have played out, drama won't be in short supply in the next round.


Semifinals Predictions

France vs. Belgium

France's coach Didier Deschamps (R) talks with France's forward Kylian Mbappe (C) at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup quarter-final football match between Uruguay and France at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium in Nizhny Novgorod on July 6, 2018. (Photo by
FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images

To some extent, France and Belgium are two sides of the same coin. They have talent in abundance with questions over the coaching.

Didier Deschamps took charge in 2012, and under him the French were quarterfinalists at the 2014 World Cup and runners-up at Euro 2016. Still, his critics would argue Les Bleus don't make the most of the players at their disposal—especially in the attacking third. 

Roberto Martinez, meanwhile, took over as Belgium coach in 2016 following an uninspiring spell at Everton. Going from Marc Wilmots to Martinez looked like a lateral move, but Martinez deserves a lot of credit for Belgium's 2-1 win over Brazil, as he set up the team for success.

Reaching the World Cup final will be a source of validation for the winning coach.

This is the tournament where Deschamps becomes appreciated for his achievements. His conservative approach isn't always the best to watch, yet it's hard to argue with the results. France have generally avoided the drama that plagued them in past tournaments, and one goal was the difference in both their 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016 exits.

It was far from smooth sailing when France won their only World Cup in 1998. They needed extra time to beat Paraguay in the round of 16 and defeated Italy on penalties. They also trailed Croatia 1-0 in the semifinals before earning a 2-1 win.

But Zinedine Zidane's two goals in the 3-0 win over Brazil in the final are what people most remember from that tournament.

France's best is yet to come in the 2018 World Cup, and that's bad news for Belgium.

Prediction: France 2, Belgium 0


Croatia vs. England

Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press

How much do Croatia have left to give in the World Cup? Their past two matches have gone to penalty shootouts, and they looked to be out of gas by the time the final whistle blew at the end of extra time of their victory over Russia in the quarterfinals.

Sime Vrsaljko limped off in the 97th minute, and Danijel Subasic was clearly battling a hamstring problem before his heroics in the shootout. Mario Mandzukic was running on fumes, which is concerning for Croatia ahead of the semifinals:

Rory Smith @RorySmith

Mario Mandzukic can barely move at this point. Croatia are essentially playing an asymmetrical 4-4-2, where the left winger is a hat-stand.

Croatia play England on Wednesday, and that's not much time to wind down after a pair of matches that taxed the players mentally and physically.

Although England needed penalties to advance past Colombia in the round of 16, the Three Lions didn't have to overexert themselves in a 2-0 quarterfinal win over Sweden. Coach Gareth Southgate praised the strength of his team to avoid any sort of hangover Saturday, per the Guardian's Dominic Fifield:

"We've got to this point because the collective has been so strong. To have gone to the depths emotionally and physically in midweek [against Colombia], and controlled this game and withstood the physical test, was a sign of resilience of a young team who are maturing in front of our eyes. But I spoke to the lads today and none of us fancied going home. Now we have to be here another week. It's up to us now which games we play in."

Croatia looked great in the group stage—never better than in their 3-0 victory over Argentina. That form has yet to carry over to the knockout stages.

One could argue England have yet to be tested in a major way at the World Cup. They packed it in against Belgium, and Colombia weren't the same squad that nearly eliminated Brazil in the 2014 quarterfinals.

Still, the World Cup is a marathon. Croatia are losing steam as they approach the finish line, while England may be hitting their form. The Three Lions will earn a close victory to seal their passage to the final.

Prediction: England 2, Croatia 1