And then there were four.
After another eventful knockout round in what is surely one of the most unpredictable World Cups in recent memory, it’s little wonder these semifinals are unprecedented: 2018’s are the first-ever semifinals not to include one of either Brazil, Argentina or Germany.
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Four nations remain in contention in Russia, all European and all have a legitimate shot at lifting the trophy in Moscow on July 15.
Here’s how we rank the remaining four countries based on their play in the last three rounds:
Quarterfinal result: 2-0 vs. Uruguay
Pre-tournament FIFA ranking: 7
Les Bleus followed up a thrilling victory over Argentina in the round of 16 with their most convincing outing of the World Cup with Friday’s 2-0 win over Uruguay.
A defence that has been dominant most of the tournament completely shut down the Uruguayans, who looked particularly out of sorts without injured striker Edinson Cavani.
0 – Luis Suárez failed to have a single touch in the opposition box for the first time ever in a World Cup game (13th app) & this was only the second time he failed to attempt a shot in a WC match, with the other also coming vs France (June 2010). Lonely. #URUFRA #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/4mAUdq9rpa
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 6, 2018
France’s midfield duo of Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante have emerged as the best in Russia, while Antoine Griezmann, who has struggled to find his top form at the World Cup, had his best game of the tournament so far against Uruguay.
All of this points to France only getting better in the semifinals. Look out.
Quarterfinal result: 2-1 vs. Brazil
Pre-tournament FIFA ranking: 3
Belgian manager Roberto Martinez took a tactical risk in the quarterfinal against Brazil, and it paid off in spades.
The additions of Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli to the starting XI were immense, as Fellaini allowed Kevin De Bruyne — the best player in the entirety of the quarterfinals — to play much higher up the pitch, and Chadli neutralized Brazilian midfielders Fernandinho and Paulinho.
With De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard deployed in a front three, the Red Devils tore Brazil’s defence apart on the counter in the first half, and the trio looked like scoring nearly every time it attacked. Brazil were at a clear disadvantage without suspended defensive midfielder Casemiro, whose absence left the Seleção back line exposed.
Belgium, however, were far from perfect. Brazil had multiple quality chances to score in the early goings of the game, and then dominated the second half with 17 shots (six on target) to just one from Belgium (none on target). Friday wasn’t Brazil’s day, but Belgium shouldn’t expect the same rust from France. …read more