France and Belgium, two teams populated with some of the world’s best players, square off in a World Cup semifinal. Live updates and analysis.
France and Belgium have arrived at the semifinals of World Cup 2018. France won in 1998, while Belgium is trying to make its first final.
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How to watch: In the U. S., Fox and Telemundo have the broadcast at 2 p.m., but you can stream it here .
Some see Belgium’s ride to the semifinals as a validation of the way it altered its development system and groomed its current generation of players. As with the reboots of Germany and Spain before it, Belgium’s transformation is now deemed — by some — as worthy of study, and copy. But the presence of Belgium, Croatia, France and England here, Rory Smith writes, is a reminder to be careful trying to replicate any model in a different country.
Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne may be the best attacking trio left in the tournament, and they have asked serious questions of every team in the knockouts. France’s ability to disrupt them before they get into dangerous positions will go a long way to keeping them from imposing themselves on the match today. That role often goes to N’Golo Kanté, a tireless worker. But he will need some help from Paul Pogba and another strong performance from the center-back pair of Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti today; stopping Belgium will not be a one-man job.
• So many of the matchups today will be familiar to regular watchers of the Premier League: N’Golo Kanté and Paul Pogba of France vs. Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne of Belgium in the midfield; goalkeeper Hugo Lloris trying to fend off striker Romelu Lukaku; Olivier Giroud potentially challenging for headers against Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld. But the club affiliations are blurred today as well: Tottenham, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Paris St.-Germain, Monaco and Barcelona all have players on both sides of this semifinal.
• “I think we know them very well,” France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris said. “But they know us very well.” Said Manager Didier Deschamps: “It’s an advantage on both sides. They can appreciate each other. But during the match, everyone will be on his own side.”
• Kylian Mbappé and Antoine Griezmann will pose an attacking test as fearsome as the one Belgium recently passed against Brazil. Belgium did that with some sturdy play from Marouane Fellaini and Axel Witsel in midfield, and France should expect a bit more of the same today.
• Belgium is without Thomas Meunier, an important (but not necessarily flashy) member of its team. He picked up his second yellow card against Brazil and is suspended. France gets back Blaise Matuidi after he served his own yellow-card ban in the quarterfinals.
• Tottenham Hotspur has as many players left in the World Cup (nine) as the entire Bundesliga and one more than Italy’s Serie A. Four players from Spurs could see action today: Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Mousa Dembélé for Belgium, and Hugo Lloris for France. Belgium’s Nacer Chadli also spent time at Spurs.
• France won the World Cup in 1998, and returned to the final in 2006. Belgium is in the semifinals for only the second time; it lost at this stage in 1986.
• Today’s winner faces the England-Croatia winner in Sunday’s final in Moscow. The loser can stay in St. Petersburg, which will host the third-place match on Saturday.
• France is the favorite to advance to the final, but it’s very close: The bookmakers’ odds translate into France being about 54 percent likely winner. The bookies have lots of other opinions too: The over/under is 2.5 goals. On corners it’s 10. The most likely player to score the first goal is Antoine Griezmann of France (6-1), followed by Romelu Lukaku of Belgium (7-1) and Kylian Mbappe of France (8-1).
• France’s fresh-faced right back, Benjamin Pavard, has had a strong tournament and scored a wonderful goal against Argentina. But his part of the field is where Belgium’s Eden Hazard likes to work, and that could pose his biggest test yet.
• Nearly half — 40 of 92 — of the players left in the World Cup play for Premier League clubs. Jonathan Lieuw looks at what that means, why people shouldn’t give the league too much credit just yet.
• Shameless flattery, dodgy fluency and warm ovations: Sarah Lyall wrote about the glorious stew and grand theater that is the World Cup press conference .
• Why does every player in the World Cup bring his hands to his head after a near miss? It turns out there’s a psychological explanation .