World Cup Predictions 2018: Projecting Final Matchup Before 1st Semi-Final Game

Christopher Simpson@@CJSimpsonBRFeatured ColumnistJuly 10, 2018

France's midfielder N'Golo Kante controls the ball 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 FRANCK FIFE / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS        (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)
FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images

Two of France, Belgium, Croatia and England will compete in Sunday's 2018 FIFA World Cup final, after they booked their places in the semi-finals.

Local rivals France and Belgium will go head-to-head on Tuesday to secure the first place in the showpiece at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, while Croatia and England will face off the following day.

Read on for a closer look at the two semi-finals, as well as a projected matchup for the final.


France vs. Belgium

Belgium booked their place in the semi-final with a statement win over five-time World Cup winners Brazil, and their top stars performed to the exceptionally high level they're capable of, as noted by The Times' Henry Winter:

Henry Winter @henrywinter

Brilliant by Martinez and from his players, such a strong spine. So much class De Bruyne passing and finishing Hazard dribbling, keeping the ball, Lukaku bullying opponents. Fellaini v effective tonight. Kompany's leadership. Good late save by Courtois. #bel #semis

The Red Devils took full advantage of a Selecao side missing Casemiro in front of their back line with some devastating counter-attacks as Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne ran them ragged.

It won't be as easy against France, though, who have a specialist at halting the opposition in their tracks in N'Golo Kante:

Squawka Football @Squawka

@sportingindex @muhammadbutt N'Golo Kanté made more interceptions (4) than other player on the pitch during #FRA's quarter-final win against Uruguay. Mr. Fifteen Lung was at it again. https://t.co/ekdqxuthki

His boundless energy and ability to recover possession will be a thorn in Belgium's side throughout their clash, and he'll also have Paul Pogba beside him.

The Manchester United midfielder has shown his capabilities in a box-to-box role at the World Cup, helping Kante break up attacking plays and also contributing further forward with vision and creativity.

French Football Weekly's Rich Allen praised the pair and some of their team-mates for their strong showing in the 2-0 win over Uruguay in the quarter-final:

Rich Allen 🇨🇵 @rich_allen85

Excellent from Giroud and Kante. Pogba for the most part looked composed (bar one moment). Varane and Umtiti marshalled well. Lloris with that fantastic save, highlighting why he's captain and 1st choice. Bring on the semi-finals.

The two sides are evenly matched, so it's a difficult one to call, but the Red Devils were perhaps a little fortunate to only concede one goal against Brazil, who spurned several promising opportunities and were controversially denied a penalty.

If they're similarly open against France, Les Bleus can punish them by displaying a more ruthless streak than Brazil did.


Croatia vs. England

As is the case for the first semi-final, this match could go either way, and it will be an enormous test for both sides.

In Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, Croatia have the tools to dominate the centre of the pitch and make life difficult for the Three Lions.

They could be without Sime Vrsaljko, though, according to the Mirror's David McDonnell. ESPN's Michael Cox believes that would be hugely detrimental to their play at both ends of the pitch:

Michael Cox @Zonal_Marking

Vrsaljko being ruled out would be a massive blow for Croatia. Was their major attacking force in QF, and means their defence becomes much slower

A lack of pace at the back against England, one of the quickest teams at the tournament, would be a big problem.

While his failure to take his chances has attracted criticism, the Three Lions have a player in their ranks who can give Croatia's back line a torrid time in Raheem Sterling. The BBC's Dan Roan praised his showing against Sweden:

Dan Roan @danroan

Apart from Pickford, thought Sterling England’s most important player y’day. Perhaps much of the movement, pace & panic he creates is missed as not obvious watching on TV. Still needs more composure/ruthlessness at vital moments, but 1 of players Croatia will be most concerned by

With the pace of Sterling and others offering a threat from open play on top of England's almost unrivalled threat from set pieces—they've scored eight from dead-ball situations in Russia—the Three Lions might just have the decisive edge in what should be a tight game.


Predicted final matchup: France vs. England