The 2018 World Cup is reaching the penultimate stage as the semifinals feature four UEFA sides facing off. First the starpower of France take on the firepower of Belgium on Tuesday, as European neighbors become bitter rivals for at least 90 minutes. On Wednesday, the dark horse story of the tournament, Croatia, will face off with an England side that is dreaming of a second World Cup title to add to their footballing history. Our panelists offer up their predictions.
France vs Belgium (Tuesday on St. Petersburg)
Steen Kirby: Romelo Lukaku and Kylian Mbappe are the centerpiece players to watch in this one while Paul Pogba/N’Golo Kante and Eden Hazard/Kevin De Bruyne shine in the midfield. These two evenly balanced sides feature some of the giants of football and this is a true heavyweight clash. Belgium has a (slightly) better attack, but France could take advantage of a Belgian backline that is probably the worst of the remaining teams in the tournament. France will need to play with ambition to win, but I expect Belgium to punch back enough to send this game to penalties. France 3-2 (after extra time and penalties)
Shiven Mohindra: Both teams have been excellent so far in the tournament. France will look to play a possession heavy game and use their talent to rip through the Belgian defence. Belgium will try and utilise the counter attack and punish France with their pace and power. Both sides are stacked with talent and have a good mix of youth and experience. In what will be a very close affair, Deschamps’ France will prevail. France 1-0
Lukas Weese: What a star studded semi final. France consists of Greizmann, Pogba and Mbappe taking on Belgium’s powerful front three of De Bruyne, Lukaku and Hazard. While Belgium was cranking up the pressure in their quarterfinal, there were periods of the match that Brazil was implementing a ferocious attack. France’s defensive core, led by Pogba, is way more deep and stronger than Brazil’s. It should be a very close game but I think France’s depth will prevail to advance them to their first World Cup Final since 2006. France 2-1
Croatia vs England (Wednesday in Moscow)
Steen: What a moment for both teams. Croatia have backed up their group stage performance with clutch performances to reach this stage and ensure no worse than a place in the third place game where they could match their best ever World Cup showing. England has bought into “it’s coming home” a slogan that shows the belief the squad has in each others, and the fans have in the squad. Harry Kane, the Golden Boot favorite, will likely carry England if they are to win this game. John Stones and Harry Maguire have become household names in the UK for their performances this tournament though. Croatia are a great side, but I’ll back England because they should be fresher, and the English backline should be able to stifle the movement of Croatia’s forwards. England 2-1
Shiven: Two teams that were not expected to make it this far in the tournament. Croatia have scraped through both their knockout games, winning on penalties. England put together and mature and professional performance to outclass the Swedes in their quarter final tie. The Croatians will be fatigued and tired after 2 grueling back to back matches, and therefore will pave the way for England to reach the final. England 3-1
Lukas: England is coming off a comfortable victory over Sweden. Croatia, on the other hand, is coming off a penalty shootout thriller over the home country Russians. Croatia will want to dictate possession with Modric and Rakitic. They will want to feed the ball into Mandzukic who is a great finisher in the box. Meanwhile, England is deadly on their set pieces. But their defense has shown to make tremendous gaffes during this World Cup, leading to odd man counterattacks. Harry Kane has been sensational for England as the World Cup’s soon to be crowned Golden Boot winner. I think he scores a late goal to book England’s ticket into their first World Cup Final since 1966. England 2-1 in ET.