France vs Belgium, World Cup semi-final

It feels faintly absurd to favourably compare a midfield diamond featuring Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli with France's but the goal of that set-up is to get the best from their more accomplished players. Who will come out on top?

Belgium v France for a place in a World Cup final, is already being labelled the "Thierry Henry Derby". The match kicks-off at 20:00 hrs (BST) at Krestovsky Stadium in St. Petersburg.

With the second-youngest roster at the World Cup, France has excelled and advanced to the World Cup semifinals for the first time since 2006.

One statistic that has been doing the rounds of late is that of Belgium captain Hazard's relentless dribbling against Brazil in the quarter-finals.

The French will remember well what happened when the teams last met, with Belgium tearing them apart in a 4-3 friendly win in Paris in June 2015. Mbappe has shown remarkable speed and touch, and will surely test the defensive wit of Belgians back line. The win will not only confirm France's place in the Final, but it also show that the team is ready to become the world powerhouse everyone expects them to be sooner than later. Specifically, De Bruyne. But ultimately, France have the edge: the skill, running, intelligence, strength and invention from their trio is surely superior to their opponents. Matuidi is likely to replace Corentin Tolisso in the French side. The attacker has been crucial to Belgium's run to the semi-finals, providing two goals and two assists for his side. Several players have club teammates on the opposite bench.

The Chelsea midfielder idolised Zinedine Zidane as a kid and moved to France at the age of 14 to join the academy at Lille, where he would go on to make his professional debut at 16 in November 2007. Will Belgium be up to the challenge?

As we all know, the tournament never plays out the way we see it on paper.

If he can do that, then the golden generation could well glitter alongside the World Cup, as the winners of this semi-final would be odds-on favourites to lift the trophy on Sunday.

Friends and foes at the same time?

When Belgium went out to Argentina in 2014, frustration could not hide the fact that there would be more opportunities.

Mertens might be the risk Belgium needs to take in order to reach their first ever World Cup final.

Head-to-head the two countries have played seven games with England recording four wins, one draw and two losses.

With Hugo Lloris impressing in goal and a solid midfield of Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante, the one potential weakness for France could be their inexperienced defence.

Three of the last four meetings between the sides have produced under 2.5 goals in total.

France have been steadily finding their best form over the course of their FIFA World Cup 2018 campaign. Henry may have a confined role, but he is part of an admired coaching team, led by Martinez, who have been tactically dynamic in the tournament, sometimes in adversity, as when substitutions rescued a 2-0 deficit against Japan; sometimes very proactively, when some radical changes, in formation and deployment of key players, underpinned a famous victory, against Brazil in the last eight. One where the stakes will be extremely high between two attacking-minded sides. "I think that Thierry Henry can be credited with some of the tactical ploys". Harry Kane has more goals but the Manchester United striker's performances have been brilliant even when he didn't find the net: see his dummy for the victor against Japan, or the run that set up De Bruyne against Brazil.

  • Salvatore Jensen