Fifa World Cup semi-final preview: schedule, odds, predictions, head-to-head and past records

Four teams and four games left at Russia 2018 but first it’s France v Belgium and Croatia v England

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 July, 2018, 8:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 July, 2018, 11:03am

So we know the final four and one of Belgium, England, France and Croatia will be lifting the 6.1 kilos of 18 carat gold that constitute the Fifa World Cup trophy.

Before they get in sight of that, there’s the small matter of the semi-finals of a tournament that has delivered well beyond expectations.

We’ve had late winners, shoot-out drama and plenty of goals, 157 so far with four games left.

Could we see Brazil 2014’s total 171 broken? It might be tough unless there is a repeat of the 7-1 semi-final where the hosts were thrashed by Germany.

The good news is that no players are suspended for the semi-finals so the managers can pick their very best and because the cautions are cleared after the quarter-finals only a red card will mean missing the final, should the team get there.

France v Belgium

The teams have played 73 times since they first met in 1904. Surprisingly it is Belgium who hold the advantage in the head to head, winning 30 times to France’s 24 and the 19 draws.

At Fifa World Cups, they have only met at the finals twice – in the groups of 1938 and the third-place play-off of 1986.

The neighbours are not really considered rivals – France have Italy and Germany, while Belgium have the Netherlands – but they do have the two best squads at this World Cup and should provide a cracker of a semi-final.

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Odds: France win $2.55, draw $3.32, Belgium win $3.15

What time and where?

The first semi-final is held in Saint Petersburg. Kick off is 2am on Wednesday July 11 (Hong Kong time). The game is on Viu TV (channel 99) and the Now TV World Cup channels

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Russia 2018 so far:

Belgium have won every game in normal time, although they left it late in their comeback against Japan before seeing off Brazil with a measured performance at both ends of the pitch and a shrewd tactical display from Roberto Martinez.

The Red Devils are also the tournament top scorers with 14.

France beat Argentina 4-3 in the round of 16 and steered past Uruguay in the quarter-finals but this is also the same team that drew 0-0 with Denmark and it is hard to predict if Didier Deschamps will ever see his talented squad reach their free-flowing best.

Best World Cup finish:

France won the World Cup in 1998. Belgium’s best is fourth in 1986, which they have already matched.

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Semi-final record:

France have been in four World Cup semi-finals. They lost on penalties to West Germany in 1982 after drawing 3-3. The West Germans then beat them 2-0 in 1986 to stoke that rivalry. At home in 1998 France beat Croatia 2-1 thanks to a brace from Lilian Thuram, his only international goals. Most recently in 2006 France beat Portugal 1-0 with Zinedine Zidane scoring the winner.

Belgium’s only semi-final came at Mexico ’86. They were beaten 2-0 by Argentina, both goals coming from Diego Maradona.

That meant the Belgians faced the French to decide third and fourth place. France won 4-2.

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Prediction: Belgium 3-2 France (After extra time)

Croatia v England

The teams have met seven times, the first of which was a friendly in 1996. They met at the European Championship in 2004 when England ran out 4-2 winners in Lisbon thanks to goals from Paul Scholes, Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard.

They have since played in both World Cup and Euro qualifiers but it is nine years since the last game between the teams.

England have won four and lost two, with the only draw coming in their first meeting. This could be a tight affair between England’s young squad and Croatia’s wise heads.

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Odds: Croatia win $3.7, draw $3.25, England win $2.38

What time and where?

The Luzhniki Stadium is the host for the second semi-final and one of the sides will return there on Sunday for a chance to lift the famous trophy. The other goes to Saint Petersburg on Saturday to play off for third place. The game kicks off on Thursday July 12 at 2am (Hong Kong time).

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Russia 2018 so far:

England finished second in the group to Belgium, after losing to the Red Devils in the final group game. Gareth Southgate’s side needed penalties to get past Colombia but swatted Sweden aside in the quarter-finals to encourage the self-belief back home.

Croatia have impressed from the outset. They won all of their group games, topping a tough group including Argentina, Iceland and Nigeria.

The knockouts have been harder, despite making plenty of chances. The Denmark game went to penalties after Luka Modric’s extra-time penalty was saved but they triumphed in the shoot-out.

It was a similar story in the quarters where Croatia came from behind to force extra-time and then after taking the lead found themselves level at the final whistle. Two shoot-out wins will see them in good stead mentally but playing 120 minutes twice already may yet cost them.

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Best World Cup finish:

Third place in France is Croatia’s best, which they earned by beating the Netherlands on the eve of the 1998 final.

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Semi-final record:

Croatia reached the semi-finals in 1998 at their first World Cup. The cult favourites played the hosts and went 1-0 up through tournament top-scorer Davor Suker before an unexpected double from Lilian Thuram.

England have been to two semi-finals. The first came at home in 1966 when they beat Portugal 2-1 as Bobby Charlton grabbed both goals.

Most recently was 28 years ago at Italia 90 when they lost to West Germany on penalties.

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Prediction: England 2-1 Croatia