World Cup 2018: The battles that will define France vs. Belgium | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 10.07.2018
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World Cup 2018: The battles that will define France vs. Belgium

Both sides are packed with talent but a suspension calls in to question Belgium's defensive shape. Further up the field, club teammates are on opposite sides. DW looks at the key clashes ahead of the semifinal.

Kevin de Bruyne vs. Paul Pogba

A rivalry established in Manchester moves to St. Petersburg. Both players have been able to adapt as their sides have moved through the tournament, though in different directions. Roberto Martinez started De Bruyne (pictured, right) in a deeper role where he excelled for his club last term, but Maroune Fellaini's introduction in the comeback win over Japan has freed up the Manchester City man. Pogba, on the other hand, has had to curb his attacking instincts a little and started to play more of a supporting role to the freewheeling talents of Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe.

Of the two, De Bruyne is far more consistent and is one of world football's finest passers. Pogba has as much talent but veers from the sublime to the shocking all too easily. France will need much more of the former than the latter if they are to win the midfield battle. 

Read more: Inside knowledge may prove decisive in first semifinal

Mbappe and Griezmann vs. Belgium's mystery fullbacks

Russland WM 2018 Frankreich gegen Peru (Reuters/A. Couldridge)

Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe have six goals between them in World Cup 2018

Thomas Meunier's suspension leaves Belgium without a natural full back in the squad. The aging Thomas Vermaelen and Tottenham's Toby Alderweireld may be asked to fill in, with Martinez considering switching to a back four. Both are center backs by trade and neither is particularly rapid, or as comfortable on the turn as they may need to be against France's in-form pair. Martinez is rumored to be considering abandoning his 3-5-2 system in favor of a formation that would offer more protection in the wide areas. It's a decision likely to prove critical.

Romelu Lukaku vs. Raphael Varane

Fußball WM 2018 Brasilien - Belgien | Romelu Lukaku (picture-alliance/Sputnik/M. Bogodvid)

Romelu Lukaku celebrates his team's quarterfinal win over Brazil

Another Manchester United man, Lukaku still harbors faint hopes of catching Harry Kane for the Golden Boot. Strong, mobile and a smart finisher more comfortable going forward than holding the ball up, Lukaku will provide a stern test for Varane and his central defensive partner Samuel Umtiti. But Varane is one of the few defenders that can match Lukaku for pace and strength and has enjoyed a fine tournament on the back of a Champions League win with Real Madrid and broke the deadlock in the quarterfinal win over Uruguay. 

Eden Hazard vs. N'Golo Kante

Russland WM 2018 Belgien gegen Tunesien (Reuters/C. Recine)

Eden Hazard faces a battle against his Chelsea teammate N'Golo Kante

Hazard recently called Kante "the best player in the world in his position" but must find a way to escape his teammate's attentions if he's to continue his strong showing in Russia. Kante eats up the ground, is positionally excellent and is a great reader of the play. Hazard's best chance to get the better of him is to isolate the holding midfielder with the ball at his feet and facing goal. To do that he'll need fast and accurate service, something he'll expect from De Bruyne, and the intelligence to demand the ball in areas where Kante is reluctant to go. One of these can expect some stick from the other when they return to training in west London.

Jan Vertonghen vs. Olivier Giroud

Fußball Frankreich - Irland (Reuters/C. Platiau)

Olivier Giroud's hold up play has been important in France's improved performances

Yet another all Premier League battle, a result of the majority of Belgium's likely starting XI plying their trade in England. Since replacing Ousmane Dembele, Giroud has offered France a physical presence at the sharp end of their attack, though the Chelsea striker hasn't found the net in Russia in 380 minutes. Vertonghen, coming off the back of an excellent season for Tottenham Hotspur, will relish the physical battle and is more than capable of competing with Giroud in the air, while the Belgian also possesses a left foot that means his occasional forays forward carry a genuine threat.

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