Forwards: 9 Olivier Giroud (Chelsea), 7 Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), 10 Kylian Mbappe (Paris St Germain)
Belgium’s Starting Lineup
Belgium does, in fact, stick with what’s working: Fellaini starts again with Witsel and Mousa Dembélé in a hard-working, flanked by Nacer Chadli and De Bruyne. Hazard and Lukaku up front, and the same three-man back line that got them this far: Vertonghen, Kompany and Alderweireld.
Goalkeeper: 1 Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea)
Defenders: 2 Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), 4 Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), 5 Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham)
Midfielders: 7 Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City), 19 Mousa Dembele (Tottenham), 8 Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), 10 Eden Hazard (Chelsea), 6 Axel Witsel (Tianjin Quanjian)
Forwards: 22 Nacer Chadli (West Brom), 9 Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United)
How They Got Here
Belgium is the only team left in the field with five victories in this summer’s World Cup. France tied Denmark in the group stage, and England lost to Belgium there. Croatia has left the field feeling like winners in every game, but it advanced on two straight penalty-kick shootouts, but those were merely tiebreakers: Both games were officially recorded as draws.
France vs. Belgium: The Goals
France has scored nine goals and surrendered three. Belgium has scored 14, boosted by big wins over Panama (3-0) and Tunisia (5-2) in the group stage, but it hasn’t been nearly as stingy at the back. It has surrendered five goals in Russia.
Thierry Henry on the Other Side
The presence of the former France star Thierry Henry on the Belgium bench tonight will be a bit awkward. Henry was a teammate with Deschamps on their country’s World Cup-winning team in 1998. Now in the early stages of a coaching career, he is working as an assistant to Belgium’s manager, Roberto Martinez. “I was lucky to play with him for two years in the French team,” said Hugo Lloris. “It is true that it is a little bit peculiar to see him with the Belgian team, but that’s his career and that’s how he’s learning his future career. I think his heart will be split tomorrow, because through everything he remains French.”
How Belgium Was Built
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.
Belgium’s Attack vs. France’s Defense
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.
Can Belgium Slow Mbappé and Griezmann?
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.
France vs. Belgium Top Story Lines
• 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.”
• 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).
Some Pregame Reading
• 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.