A friendly derby with a ‘bizarre’ subplot – your guide to France v Belgium

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    World Cup 2018: How Kylian Mbappe lit up France v Argentina
    2018 Fifa World Cup semi-final: France v Belgium
    Venue: St Petersburg Date: Tuesday, 10 July, 19:00 BST
    Coverage: Live on BBC One, full radio commentary on BBC Radio 5 live and text commentary online and in BBC Sport app

    It has been billed as the “derby between pals”.

    Tuesday’s World Cup semi-final pits 1998 winners France against the ‘golden generation’ from neighbours Belgium.

    Both teams were among the pre-tournament favourites, but only one can reach Sunday’s final in Moscow.

    Victory would set up a showpiece against Croatia or England – who meet on Wednesday – but who will progress?

    BBC Sport takes a look at a fascinating battle both on and off the pitch.

    A clash of styles?

    There have also been 19 draws between the two European sides

    In players such as Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba, these sides boast some of the world’s most devastating attacking players.

    But their managers utilise the quality at their disposal in different ways.

    France boss Didier Deschamps – who is aiming to emulate Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer by winning the World Cup as both a player and manager – has often been criticised for failing to get the most out of his squad.

    Functionality, rather than flair, has been the key so far in Russia. They needed a late own goal in their opening match against Australia, edged past Peru 1-0 in their second, then played out a dull goalless draw with Denmark.

    They did impress in beating Argentina 4-3 in the last 16, but that kind of open game is not Deschamps’ style.

    “If you are looking for 5-0, don’t come to a World Cup, you won’t get this,” he said.

    While Deschamps has not always garnered positive headlines, Martinez’s spell as Belgium manager has been almost flawless.

    A surprise appointment, taking the job three months after being sacked by Everton, he has had a big impact.

    He has not tasted defeat in a competitive game as Belgium boss, his last loss in a non-friendly match the Toffees’ 3-0 defeat by Sunderland in May 2016.

    Martinez has overseen a run of 19 wins and five draws, culminating in an impressive 2-1 victory over Brazil in the quarter-finals.

    Belgium’s haul of 14 goals is the most at this stage of a World Cup since 2002, when eventual winners Brazil had 15.

    Speaking after that game, former England captain Alan Shearer said: “The big question about Belgium was ‘are you a team of individuals or can you come together as a team?’ He has gelled them together.

    “That has got to come from the manager. There is a huge difference between where they are now and where they were two years ago.”

    Time to deliver for ‘golden generation’

    England know all about having a ‘golden generation’ of players.

    Theirs failed to win any international silverware, but Belgium’s are on course to win the biggest prize of all.

    The Red Devils won all of their games in the group stage and came from 2-0 down to beat Japan in the last 16 before that superb quarter-final showing against the five-time champions.

    World Cup 2018: Brazil 1-2 Belgium highlights

    They exited at the quarter-final stage of both the 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship, so is time running out for this talented crop of players?

    “It is important for everyone to understand that Belgium has a population of 11 million and the current generation of players did not happen by accident,” said Martinez.

    “There is a very clear structure within professional football in Belgium. It is a country focused on developing its young talent.

    “We can only be ourselves and we already have time to use this World Cup as an advantage with the newest generations.”

    ‘Bizarre’ situation as Henry plots France’s downfall

    Henry (right) and Deschamps (left) lifted the World Cup trophy together in 1998

    Possibly the most intriguing storyline of this semi-final comes off the pitch.

    Thierry Henry was born near Paris and scored 53 goals in 123 appearances for France, winning the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000.

    But he is now plotting his home country’s downfall as assistant manager of Belgium.

    “Thierry Henry is really important for us,” said defender Toby Alderweireld. “He tells us stories from his playing days and they inspire us.

    “If he says something, it always turns out to be something helpful. His presence, his World Cup experience, is all a very positive influence.”

    Tuesday’s match pitches him against a former team-mate in Deschamps. The pair were never beaten in the 21 matches they played together for France.

    Deschamps said: “It is bizarre because he is French and will be on the opponents’ bench. But he is someone I really appreciate and I am happy for him.”

    Belgium midfielder De Bruyne is sure Henry “will want us to come out on top” – but France full-back Lucas Hernandez thinks it is a win-win situation for the former Arsenal and Barcelona forward.

    “All France knows him, what a great player he was and what an icon for football,” said Hernandez.

    “But if we win, he will also be happy because he is a Frenchman.”

    ‘A derby between pals’

    This meeting will be the first between bordering nations since 1986, when West Germany met France.

    Belgium playmaker Hazard was born in northern France, with Le Soir newspaper calling him “the most French of all the Belgians”. A photograph which has surfaced on social media appears to show Hazard and his brothers in France kits.

    Le Soir describes this game as “a derby between pals”, adding: “This 74th derby between France and Belgium will be played in an atmosphere of a joyous neighbourhood get-together.”

    In the village of Warneton, which straddles the border, people are struggling to pick a team to back.

    “I think we’ll support France, but also Belgium, at least a little bit, because they’re our friends,” one resident told France3. Another said: “We’re happy because we support both, and what’s great, is that one of them will make it to the final!”

    Three key head-to-heads

    Antoine Griezmann v Romelu Lukaku

    Another tournament, another in which Griezmann has shone for France. The Atletico Madrid forward netted six times at Euro 2016 to win the Golden Boot as his team finished runners-up to Portugal.

    This time he will be looking to go one step further.

    Griezmann has scored three times so far in Russia, one fewer than Lukaku. England’s Harry Kane leads the way with six.

    Griezmann has scored seven goals in his past six knockout matches in major tournaments, while Lukaku has been directly involved in 20 goals in his past 13 games for Belgium – 17 goals and three assists.

    Kylian Mbappe v Eden Hazard

    Teenager Mbappe announced himself on the world stage with a brilliant man-of-the-match performance in France’s 4-3 victory over Argentina.

    The Paris St-Germain player put on a devastating attacking show – his lightning speed and keen eye for goal helping him score twice and win a penalty.

    Prior to that, his goal against Peru made him – at 19 years and 183 days – the youngest player to score for France in a major tournament.

    Belgium captain Hazard, meanwhile, has already chipped in with two goals and two assists.

    Both players like to run with the ball, too. Of those left in the competition, Mbappe (37) and Hazard (30) are the top two players for dribbles attempted.

    “He apparently used to watch videos of me when he was younger,” Hazard told RMC Sport. “Now, it’s the other way around. I have a lot of respect for what he’s achieved at his age.”

    Paul Pogba v Kevin de Bruyne

    The battle for midfield superiority – made in Manchester.

    United’s Pogba and City’s De Bruyne will be looking to exert their authority in the middle of the park, setting the tempo for their side.

    As their main statistics show, De Bruyne has created three times as many chances as Pogba so far, but the Frenchman is able to win the ball back more often than his opponent.

    PogbaDe Bruyne
    359Minutes played360
    242 (78.1%)Passes (accuracy)216 (81.2%)
    5Chances created16
    314Touches282
    39/72Duels won17/37
    34Ball recoveries24
    View the original article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/44766180

    Additional reporting by BBC Monitoring’s Laura Gozzi.

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