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FIFA World Cup 2018: Preview of the semifinals
On the 4th of July, I had analyzed the quarterfinal matches and given my predictions in an article published on Merinews, the link to which is given below:

I’m glad that 75 per cent of my prediction came true (3 out of 4). The only prediction that went wrong was the match between Brazil and Belgium. I hope that I wasn’t the only one who predicted Brazil’s win.

Belgium played with clinical precision, with the right strategy to crush the hopes of Brazil fans in a high octane match with a 2-1 score line. Asking Lukaku and Hazaard to play from the wings with Kevin De Bruyne as number 9 position was the master strategy that foxed the otherwise strong Brazilian defence.

While the defenders were expecting Bruyne to pass the ball to Lukaku, the former surprised everyone by taking the shot and scoring the goal to double the lead of Belgium after an own goal by Fernandinho, who earlier gave Belgium the lead.

England and France won their matches without much sweat, but Croatia faced stiff resistance from hosts Russia. Before going down in 3-4, Russia kept the marauding Croatians at bay, matching their fancied opponents to finish extra time at 2-2.

Football is highly unpredictable these days and the current world cup is no exception. Since all four semifinalists are now European countries, we can safely say that the World Cup has been converted into Euro 2018 competition.

Now that we know the semi-final line up. Here’s my analysis:

France Vs Belgium (10th July 2018 at 11:30 pm IST)

France was the superior side against Uruguay during the quarterfinal. Although Cavani’s absence was a blow for Uruguay, the Les Bleus played magnificently to send the South American nation packing. But they are now facing the Red Devils who sent another South American nation, five-time world champion and favourite of this edition, Brazil, home by skilful and strategic display of high quality football.

Enjoying a better head to head record, Belgium is no easy push over for France. They have to play out of their skins to beat the Red Devils who have convincingly won all their matches in this tournament so far. Considering the team composition and big match temperament, France is the favourite for bookies.

But Belgium is almost there to deprive France the chance to play the final. Overall it is going to be a contest between two high-calibre evenly matched teams. So a prediction is hazardous. But I think law of averages will catch up with Belgium who having won all the matches so far, may taste defeat. France is also undefeated, but they drew a match against Denmark during group phase.

Head to Head record: Out of 73 matches, Belgium won 30, France 24 and 19 were drawn.

Likely team composition:

France:  Lloris, Pavard, Umtiti, Varane, Lucas, Pogba, Kante, Mbappe, Griezmann, Tolisso, Giroud

Belgium:Courtois, Alderweireld, Kompany, Meunier, Vertonghen, Fellaini, Witsel, Chadli, De Bruyne, Lukaku, Eden Hazard

Market odds: France to qualify 3/4, Belgium to qualify: 11/10, Either team to win in extra time: 5/1, Belgium to win on penalties: 9/1 

My Prediction: France will prevail.

England Vs Croatia (11th July 2018 at 11:30 pm IST)

England is enjoying their luck. They are already in the semifinal without meeting any big teams. But that does not take away England’s achievements. From defence to midfield to attack, England had excelled in all the matches they played so far except the group match against Belgium where they fielded a second string side probably to lose and get the easier path to the finals.  

Kane is already the top scorer and I don’t find any reason why England should falter in the semifinals against Croatia, who found it difficult to overcome lowly Russia.

Croatia is an attacking team, but I think they will find England’s defence difficult to break. Gareth Southgate, the English coach,  knows that it is the best chance for England to win the trophy after 52 years and the young team is all pumped up to see the Three Lions overcoming the Croatian resistance. Moreover, a likely final against France is the added motivation for the English team. Even if Belgium qualifies, then it will be a chance to avenge the defeat in the group stage. So, England will be looking for nothing less than a win. Croatia, in the meantime, will try to do their best and hope England falter.

Head to Head record: Out of 7 matches, England has won 4, Croatia 2 and one was drawn.

Likely team Composition:

England XI: Pickford, Walker, Maguire, Stones, Trippier, Henderson, Alli, Lingard, Young, Kane, Sterling,

Croatia XI: Subasic, Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Rakitic, Strinic, Modric, Rebic, Kramaric, Perisic, Mandzukic

Market odds: England to reach the final: 4/6, England to win 1-0: 6/1, England to win on penalties: 9/2

Croatia to win on penalties: 8/1 

Prediction: England will win. The match may be decided in penalty shootout.

I will again comeback after the semifinals for my final analysis of the last two matches, as in the third place play off and the final. Till then…enjoy football.

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