And then there were four.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup has reached the semifinals, with France, Belgium, Croatia and England set to play this week with hopes of reaching the biggest game of them all. When the tournament started last month, few, if anyone, predicted these would be the last teams standing, but a mix of merit and luck has taken the final four countries past the likes of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, host nation Russia and many others.
So where do France, Belgium, Croatia and England stand among remaining contenders? Let’s take a look.
4. Croatia (20th in latest FIFA rankings)
Croatia might have been closer to the top if these rankings came out after the group stage, but underwhelming performances against Denmark and Russia removed some shine from the Vatreni.
Furthermore, uproar over a politically charged video defender Domagoj Vida and assistant coach Ognjen Vukojevic recorded following the quarterfinal win over Russia prompted the latter’s firing just two days before Croatia’s semifinal clash with England.
However, Croatia’s squad still contains two of the world’s best central midfielders in Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, and this team hasn’t come this far by accident.
3. England (12th in latest FIFA rankings)
England has serious momentum coming into Wednesday’s semifinal vs. Croatia, with seemingly the entire nation backing the Three Lions from near and far.
England plays a well-structured and drilled style, which relies less on star power than collective toil for success. That doesn’t mean England is short of talent, as Harry Kane leads the World Cup 2018 Golden Boot race with six goals and goalkeeper Jordan Pickford also is in red-hot form.
2. France (Seventh in latest FIFA rankings)
Les Bleus boast stars at goalkeeper, in defense, midfield and attack, and their is the envy of most other international sides. N’Golo Kante is in the running for World Cup Golden Ball, and Kylian Mbappe is the favorite to win the Best Young Player award, Antoine Griezmann is ever-dependable and Paul Pogba is flourishing.
Yet, France still is missing that go-to striker as the World Cup enters its decisive stages — Olivier Giroud, a favorite of head coach Didier Deschamps, failed to score or register a shot on goal in France’s five World Cup games so far.
Credit Deschamps for organizing his team well and fostering a positive spirit in the camp, but France will play Belgium on Tuesday in a semifinal clash of titans, and we fear Les Blues’ youth and inexperience might cost them dearly.
1. Belgium (Third in latest FIFA rankings)
The Red Devils’ galaxy of stars can rival France’s, with Thibaut Courtois, Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku living up to their billing as world-class players in Russia. The Belgians are full of confidence and showed in the quarterfinal win over Brazil they’re capable of raising their game to near-perfection.
Belgium also seems to have grown from its World Cup 2014 and Euro 2016 underachievements and is ready to take that great leap forward into the hallowed place of the final. The team head coach Roberto Martinez should take a bow.
Thumbnail photo via USA TODAY Sports Images