France and Belgium have met over 70 times, but the stakes were never as high as they are on Tuesday. The Red Devils and Les Bleus are competing for a spot in the World Cup final, and both teams are bringing world-class attacking talent to the match. France are favored, but Belgium could make several changes that could tip the scales.
France vs. Belgium Squads
First, let’s cover the suspensions. Blaise Matuidi was suspended for France’s 2-0 quarterfinal win over Uruguay, but he is expected to return to the lineup. He’ll rejoin the French midfield with NGolo Kante and Paul Pogba, who have been the best unit in the tournament.
Belgium will be without Thomas Meunier for the first time in the tournament, as the PSG midfield has also picked up a suspension. Meunier has been effective for Belgium, but hasn’t shown the flash and talent that make him successful in France. In his place expect Nacer Chadli or Yannick Carrasco in the midfield.
The biggest decision for these lineups come from Belgium coach Roberto Martinez. The former Everton boss used a four-man back line against Brazil after using a three-man defense for the previous four matches. It’s unknown how Martinez will set up his squad against France, who present a similar defensive challenge.
For the die-hard France fans, there’s one twist that makes this semifinal convincing. France legend Thierry Henry, who scored three goals as a 20-year old when France won it all in 1998, is now an assistant coach on the Belgian sideline. In their most recent action, Belgium defeated France in a wild 4-3 friendly in 2015.
France keeper Hugo Lloris, a Golden Glove candidate in Russia, had nothing but positive things to say about the Belgium squad.
“I think the Belgian team is the most exhaustive team in all aspects of the game during this tournament – they are strong everywhere,” Lloris told reporters earlier this week. “They have everything they need to be a great team and they are a great team. It is a fantastic generation and in order to beat them we will have to play a great match. We know there are going to be difficult moments, and we’ll have to be ready to suffer. But we will be ready because we have an extremely good state of mind, and it is the semi-finals in the World Cup. It is an opportunity in our careers and we have to grab it with both hands.”
With so many technically skilled players on both sides, expect a physical match. Yellow card accumulation resets in the semifinals, so players will no longer be playing in fear of being suspended for their next match.
This is the 74th meeting between these teams, but it’s mostly been through friendlies between neighboring nations. The last time they met in a World Cup was 1986, when France defeated Belgium in the third-place game in Mexico.
France vs. Belgium Lineups
Lineups are released one hour before kickoff
Source: Heavy Sports