For the fifth time in the history of the tournament, the semi-final of the FIFA World Cup will feature an all-European cast. The last time it happened was in 2006 which was hosted in Germany. The other occasions were 1934 in Italy, 1966 in England, and 1982 in Spain – all European nations.
France will meet Belgium at the Saint Petersburg Stadium on Tuesday while England face Croatia in Moscow.
The Panel comprising Sunday Omeike, Kayode Tijani, and Remi Sulola are here once again to give you their analyses and predictions of the games.
Welcome to the show!
So Sunday, what’s your impression about the quarterfinals?
Sunday: It was strictly business. No team scored more than two goals as every nation was more concerned about their defense. France easily dispatched a Cavani-less Uruguay, Brazil fell to the Belgians, while England dozed their way to the last four. Croatia were made to sweat it against hosts, Russia, needing Subasic, Modric, and Rakitic again. It was strictly business for even the hitherto carefree Belgium who grinded in midfield and defense, while the trio of Hazard, Lukaku, and De Bruyne were always direct in play. It was strictly business for Neymar and his dives, and Suarez with his baggage of cheat tricks which the referees – who also meant serious business – did not fall for their gimmicks.
What’s the impression, Remi?
Remi: No surprises at all because the teams that won showed class and played exceptionally well to qualify for the semifinal.
I thoroughly enjoyed all the games. Quite sad Brazil were eliminated but kudos to Belgium for grinding out the result. They will surely fancy their chances after this morale-boosting win. England easily defeated Sweden while it was a nervy affair in the Russia and Croatia tie. All in all, it was a wonderful quarterfinal.
Kayode, you said it was sad Brazil were eliminated. But are you disappointed about their exit?
Kayode: The exit of Brazil was not altogether a shock; they were living on borrowed time and their supposed inspiration did not last because they still lacked the creativity that made Germany disgrace them at home in 2014. Brazil must still realise there is something called DEFENSE. You can’t win trophies without having a strong and very tight back four. They surely did not deserve to make it to the next round, though being their fan, it was a sad day for me.
Remi: No, I think they didn’t play to fans’ expectation. Neymar wasn’t at his best. It took an Augusto to pull one against a compact team like Belgium. So, I am not disappointed.
Sunday, surely you aren’t because you actually predicted their exit.
Sunday: No, they couldn’t have gone past Belgium if the game was replayed. The only disappointment was in Neymar who always looked to dive and con the referee. Prior to the game against Belgium, I was worried about how coach Tite would handle the threat of Hazard and De Bruyne. What I did not expect was Lukaku playing close to his best, and the trio downed the average Brazil squad. If the group stage is taken into account, where they were held by an average Switzerland and sneaked past Costa Rica – who could have scored earlier – in injury time, overall, the Selecao played the best they could and got knocked out by a better team.
Did Russia overachieve?
Sunday: Definitely. But let’s not take anything away from the hosts, they played to their strength while also – surprisingly – delivering entertaining football to their mesmerised fans. Prior to the tournament, they lost friendlies after the other but delivered when it mattered. I was impressed with the way they held off Spain, using the strength of Dzyuba to bring others into the attack and profiting from it, also pushing Croatia all the way to the lottery of penalties. The hosts did impress.
What do you think, Remi?
Remi: Yes, they did because most people feel they shouldn’t have gone beyond the group stage but they prove everybody wrong. It showed that their football is growing and developing.
Kayode: I completely disagree with you guys – Russia did not overachieve. From their first game, we saw determination and pure passion especially when they broke the opponents’ attack and counter-attacked. For a team that lost all their friendly games before the tournament, they deserve to have gone further to the final if they had done better in the penalty shootout.
Now, let us focus on the semifinals. Sunday, what are the key battles in the game between France and Belgium?
Sunday: Same as against Brazil, I wait to see how France deal with both Hazard and De Bruyne. Kante would do a lot of running, but he can only keep one quiet at a time. He would need Matuidi to be at his best. The best option is to make both players sit in front of the back four and free Pogba to take on Belgium’s midfield trio. It’s going to be a cagey affair.
Kayode: France and Belgium should put on a sound entertaining fight worthy of a great spectacle. The French team in this championship are very strong going forward and quick to immediately return from attack to stifle the opposition like they did to Uruguay. They gave as much as they got but France in this tournament are as good as that French squad that won the France 1998 World Cup with the best players who can conquer any opposition but therein lies the challenge. Going into the last few games, will the players’ temperament be in check especially Pogba?
Remi, what’s your view?
Remi: Attack if I must say. Both teams have good frontline which is an advantage but taking their chances to score when it matter most will be key.
What about England v Croatia?
Remi: Croatia don’t really have a good attacking formation as compared to the English side. Croatia midfield could work for them and also play from the flanks to neutralise the Three Lions defense line.
How do you see the tie, Kayode?
Kayode: England v Croatia will be one of the absolutely great games to watch. It’s very difficult to predict because England are playing their best football for decades with players who have adopted the fast-paced English league and are very confident going forward especially the team’s predator Harry Kane who is in the form of his life scoring goals for free. But then they are facing a Croatian team that is getting better by every game and they have Luca Modric to contend with. Croatia have shown they definitely are contenders, real contenders of winning this championship in spite of the narrow victory over hosts Russia. This will be explosive from the start till end. Don’t blink!
Sunday: I expect Croatia to go 4-3-3 and really unleash Modric in this game. England’s best plays come from the wings, but both Perisic and Rebic’s pace and trickery will occupy both Trippier and Young. Kane would find less joy against Croatia’s tall defenders; maybe a penalty would suffice for the Tottenham striker. England would need Raheem Sterling to come of age in this game, he would create chances but he must find his composure to finish them off.
Most goals scored by England have been from set pieces and headers. What do you think account for this?
Sunday: Credit should go to the coach, Gareth Southgate. The former Middlesbrough player and manager has tournament experience, has witnessed heartbreak and failure with England as a player, and he made two key decisions on appointment as Sam Allardyce’s replacement. He lowered the expectation of the ever-demanding English press and fans, and he recognised the strength of his team: wingbacks with good crossing range, a solid defense with excellent heading ability at set pieces and an old-fashioned striker in Harry Kane who can smell chances from afar. Every other thing in between – Sterling’s pace in the middle, Alli, and Lingard’s trickery and interplays – are distractions for the opposition.
Remi: I’m not surprised because they are good in long balls and crosses.
That was quite laconic. What’s your view, Kayode?
Kayode: For England scoring regularly from set pieces means they are stronger because it gives them more advantages. With defenders now far stronger and more versatile goals from set pieces means you work less and gain more by moving forward.
I will now put you on the spot. What’re your predictions?
Sunday: This will be close to call. Belgium are unplayable in the attack, France are solid in defense while both are strong in midfield. 1-1 with Belgium winning on penalties. Will crosses keep doing it for England? I don’t think so. They’ll need to add another channel to their attacking armoury. Perisic has huffed and puffed in this tournament and should finally make this game his. Croatia to triumph 2-1.
Remi: For the semi-finals, there may be an upset. I foresee a Croatia v Belgium final.
Kayode: Predictions are very difficult to make at this stage. But here we are…England will find Croatia very difficult to defeat but this England are difficult to stop moving forward and Kane is at his best. This game will be won by the substitutes from the bench and England last won the World Cup in 1966 and the whole country is just really determined this is the year but they play against a Croatian team that is not only inspired but have the talent to upset any team. I am not a gambler but I will say England to upset Croatia. France v Belgium will be a real WAR. This French team are on a high while Belgium’s self-belief can take them to the zenith. Belgium was never your top four team but things have changed and they can defeat any team but unfortunately for them, France are in the best form of their lives since winning the World Cup in 1998. France will beat them 2-1.
That concludes the programme today. Stay tuned to the next edition – a preview of the final!
Bye for now.