France vs Belgium key head-to-head battles

S AFP EPA REUTERS

France right back Pavard, 22, was a surprise inclusion in their squad, but he has had an excellent World Cup so far, capped by him scoring one of the goals of the tournament in the 4-2 win over Argentina.

"England was one of the favourites for me for the tournament because they have a young and hungry team with no big, worldwide stars, so it won´t be easy for us".

Martinez's Red Devils impressed this past Friday when they beat Brazil 2-1 in the quarter-finals, during which the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois impressed. Raphael Varane & Samuel Umtiti were tight at the back, and this points to a wider defensive stability, the only blot on their copybook was the three goals conceded to Argentina in the round of sixteen.

Lukaku led the counter-attack which led to Belgium's second goal against Brazil in the quarter-final and also set up their victor against Japan in the second round with an astute, unselfish dummy.

"We know we have some unbelievable players and a great manager and everyone is clear on what we want to do".

France and Belgium are a win away from a place in the World Cup final, and the two European powerhouses go head-to-head in Saint Petersburg, Russia, for the chance to play for the sport's biggest prize.

Belgium will be seeking to break new ground by reaching the final for the first time in their history - indeed they have only reached the semi-finals once before, in 1986. There could also have been a fascinating duel on the wings between French teen sensation Kylian Mbappe and his PSG team-mate Thomas Meunier but that won't happen since the Belgian is suspended for the game. Belgium boss Roberto Martinez may revert to a classic 4-4-2 formation, Fifa.com reports.

Enigmatic and controversial, Paul Pogba makes it into the starting XI here. "It's not the Thierry Henry show; I am here to help the squad".

'They are a great side and have a fantastic generation of players.

His introduction has allowed Martinez to play De Bruyne in the false number 9 role, freeing him up from defensive duties to play further up the pitch where his myriad talents could be put to better use - like shooting at goal and finding killer passes instead of trying to close down players. As France captain, Deschamps won soccer's most prized trophy in 1998. "This current crop of Belgian players knows each other and they play at some of the top clubs", he said. "For him tomorrow it could be a bit hard, but he works for Belgium now, he wants us to win".

As Belgium manager Roberto Martinez said before, he's a victor and a warrior, "Quite simply Marouane Fellaini is a team player, a footballer who shares the best possible mentality for the team".

France have no such selection issues and are nearly certain to stick with Stuttgart's Benjamin Pavard at right back after a string of impressive displays from the 22-year-old have made him one of the tournament's stand-out defenders.

There was more of the same during Belgium's pre-match press conference.

France and Belgium have met a staggering 73 times, their first meeting having been a 3-3 draw in 1904. "There is a lot of respect between us". How deep, or advanced, will Kevin de Bruyne play? "However, each player will do what it takes to win".

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