World Cup semi-finals preview

World Cup

Thirty-two teams began and four now remain. Semi-finals on Tuesday and Wednesday will decide who plays off for the honour of being the world champions on Sunday.

Belgium, France, England and Croatia are left standing and there is sure to be plenty of drama to come from two fascinating semi-final ties.

Tuesday’s first game takes place in Saint Petersburg as neighbors France and Belgium meet at the Krestovsky Stadium. Neither side have played at the stadium so far in the competition but there is likely to be a raucous atmosphere in a game involving two nations who will see this as a golden chance for global glory.

The 3.00 tournament favourites France were widely lauded coming into the World Cup but their ridiculously talented squad has yet to truly click. Even in the quarters they required some luck, as Uruguay’s Fernando Muslera spilled their second goal in a 2-0 win into his own net.

This will be their sixth semi-final, with a third final their ultimate goal, having won this tournament as hosts in 1998 before losing on penalties eight years later. Les Bleus also have experience on their side having made the showpiece at Euro 2016 and they are 2.55 to win the game.

Didier Deschamps’ men were criticised for their lack of cohesion but their victory over the Uruguayans and the 4-3 defeat of Argentina showed their clinical side, with them having scored with their last six shots.

Another great statistic is that France have not lost any of the 20 games Griezmann has scored in, while he has netted seven in his last six outings in the knockout stages of tournament football. The Atletico Madrid man is 2.75 to score his fourth goal of the tournament at anytime, while France to score a penalty, of which he has converted two so far, is 7.00.

However, they now face a team with a 100% record in Russia. Belgium were brilliant in beating Brazil 2-1 in the quarters and are through to the last four for the second time in their history.

It was only De Rode Duivels’ second ever win against the Selecao but having imploded in the last eight at both the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016, Friday’s win may have given them a huge psychological lift, with them 3.10 to win at the Krestovsky, while the draw is 3.25.

Roberto Martinez’s men have shared the goals around, with nine different scorers, and the Spaniard has been praised for the tactical tweaks he made and is likely to again adapt his 3-4-3 formation to take on France. Thomas Meunier’s suspension may present a problem and winger Yannick Carrasco is the likely candidate to replace the Paris Saint-Germain star.

Belgium, who are 3.65 to lift the World Cup, won 4-3 when the pair last met in a friendly in June 2015, but the two games before finished 0-0, although the positive side of me hopes things maybe a bit more exciting.

In a game with so much talent, it would be easy to predict plenty of goals. There has been a 3-2 between Uruguay and Holland and of course the infamous 7-1 between Brazil and Germany in the semis in 2010 and 2014 respectively and of the two semis, this is the one likely to open up.

The other game could be a tighter affair. England face Croatia in Moscow, with both nations hoping it will be the first of two successful trips to the Luzhniki Stadium within a week.

Both were seen as potential dark horses heading to Russia and will be counting their lucky stars after finding themselves in the weaker part of the draw.

England, who are 4.35 to win the tournament, displayed a rare patience and composure to beat Sweden 2-0 in Samara on Saturday and their momentum seems to be building. Gareth Southgate is keeping calm but must be bubbling with excitement inside after describing Saturday’s win as “incredible”.

This will be their second World Cup semi-final after 1966 and Italia ’90, with things seeming to have worked out for them. Saturday’s performance means they have now scored 11 times in this competition, equalling the campaign of ‘66, prompting obvious comparisons.

They are 2.30 to win on Wednesday and are a team of record breakers, with Jordan Pickford the youngest England goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet at a World Cup. Something else to come from the win over Sweden was Dele Alli becoming the second youngest England player to score in the global showpiece after Michael Owen.

A stats man himself, Southgate will also know that the last three teams to score four or more goals from corners have gone on to win the World Cup.

Croatia were perfect during the group stages but have stuttered in the knockouts, relying on penalty shootouts to get past Denmark and Russia.

For all their talent, a lack of cohesion continues to irk their fans and they are the 3.45 underdogs to win on Wednesday, with the draw in 90 minutes 3.15.

Having Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric in the midfield is often quite an advantage though, and both will need to step up and dictate the play against a less skilful but more energetic England engine room.

Another win for Croatia in a penalty shootout is 10.00, with England 9.50 in the same market.

This is the Croats’ first semi-final since 1998 and they are 6.00 to go all the way in Russia but will likely need to up their game in what could be a cagey affair.

England have seen under 2.5 goals in their last three outings, an outcome that is 1.50 and could well come down to fatigue, which should give the Three Lions an edge having seen their opponents pushed all the way in their last two outings.