The Francophone War
(Belgian Golden Generation vs Star-studded France )
Two French-speaking nations, Belgium and France will face off in a surely gripping match in the semi-finals of this World Cup. France is favourite going in and their talent is immense. Contrary to my predictions, they found a way to hack into Uruguay’s defence, which critics called the best in the whole tournament. Their impressive 4-3 win over Argentina also adds to the many logical reasons which attest to France’s potential World Cup win. From striker to goalkeeper, France could literally form three decent teams who would all qualify and do well in a World Cup. Amongst those stalwarts is 19-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappé, who has been on fire since his rise to prolificity a couple years back. In 2017, he was the 5th top goalscorer and 2nd top assister for AS Monaco. Alongside him, there is Atlético Madrid star Antoine Griezmann and Manchester United playmaker Paul Pogba, who have proven to be essential to France’s attack. Other notable players include Ousmane Dembélé, Olivier Giroud, Raphaël Varane, and Hugo Lloris, who have well established their positions in the starting lineup. As you can tell, France is quite “stacked” and if these players don’t cut it, there are an extra 12 players on the bench who some even question why they are not playing as much. A superabundance of talent, however, can result in inundation and disorganization in a team. And, that is where Belgium’s proficiency differs from France’s – they have many talented players, but after their starting 11, they are just an average team, unlike France. Their success totally hinges on the offensive prowess of Hazard, De Bruyne, and Lukaku. Fortunately for Belgium, those players never fail to deliver. The partly Francophone nation has maintained a promising undefeatable record since 2016. No team, competitively or in a friendly, have been able to beat what BBC calls Belgium’s “Golden Generation” of football. Their most noteworthy performances include their win over England and their stupefying win over Brazil in the quarter-finals. An interesting factoid about this matchup is Thierry Henry, who many call the greatest French footballer of all time, is the assistant coach of Belgium. Whether Belgium wins or loses, he will be under the scrutiny of numerous critics. As far as my personal prediction goes, Belgium is in it to win it this time and France will just fall short from victory. They may have a plethora of talent, but that rarely equates to a collective result. Belgium will marginally be the superior Francophone nation.
Battle of the Underdogs
(“It’s coming home” vs Mighty Croatia)
This matchup is irrefutably the battle of the underdogs. While these teams aren’t even remotely free from a dozen or so multi-million-dollar contracts, in the context of these teams previous results and the climate of this World Cup, they aren’t “supposed to” win the World Cup, let alone be in the final. However, both teams have earned their spot in the semi-finals. England, perhaps in most “underdog” fashion have reached this unanticipated milestone. Anecdotally, having family in England and a couple of English teachers and neighbours, I can tell most fans of the national team have clearly refrained from relatively quixotic expectations (England finished last in their group last World Cup and were eliminated by Iceland in the last European football championship). To the surprise of British denizens, England clinched a win over resolute Tunisia in their opening match and destroyed Panama 6-1. In the knockout stages, they remarkably beat Colombia In penalties and a formidable Swedish side by two goals. Spearheaded by the leading goalscorer of the tournament, Harry Kane, this English team is charged with confidence. Their opponents, however, will be far from easy to defeat. Croatia, who also didn’t get out of their group in the previous World Cup, has been the most consistent team this time around. Their win-record is even more impressive than England’s. In the “Group of Death,” they finished at 1st place with wins over Argentina, Iceland, and Nigeria. Whereas England lost to the statistically best team they’ve versed in this tournament – Belgium, Croatia wrecked Messi’s Argentina 3-0. Furthermore, they defeated the resolute Danes in the Round of 16, and over-achieving hosts, Russia in the quarter-finals. Some critics liken this group of players to the 1998 monumental Croatian team who played in their first World Cup since The Kingdom of Yugoslavia’s partition. That year, they remarkably made it all the way to the semi-finals. This year, they find themselves in the same position. Their offensive prowess is equipped with world-class players like Modrić, Rakitić, and Mandžukić who all ply their trade in top clubs in Europe. In my quarter-final prediction of Sweden vs England, I prophesized (what better word to use) “I don’t quite buy that ‘It’s coming home’ yet, but I do believe that ‘It’s coming closer.'”After they substantiated my prophecy, I now believe that it is not definitively “coming home” or anything, but it’s incredulously close to “coming home.” England will seal the deal.