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Remiqz’ analytical preview of the World Cup semi-finals

10 July 2018
Only four teams remain in the FIFA World Cup in Russia. For the first time since 2006, the semi-finals are an exclusively European party, with England, Croatia, France and Belgium still in the running. In this blog we offer a detailed preview of both semi-finals.

France 56% – Belgium 44%

France have been a very stable team at this World Cup. Of the four teams that are still in the competition, they are giving away the least goal scoring opportunities. The secret is that midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté don’t play ahead of the ball when France are attacking, and central defenders Samuel Umtiti and Raphaël Varane are two of the best central defenders of the world. When the opponent has the ball, they play a 4-4-2 that’s very hard to break down. Manager Didier Deschamps relies on Antoine Griezmann and Kyllian Mbappé to create goal-scoring opportunities out of thin air, which they have done on a regular basis so far.

Belgium are in a good flow after beating one of the best teams at the World Cup, Brazil. Manager Roberto Martínez ditched his usual 3-4-2-1 formation and set The Red Devils up in a 4-3-3 with a false 9 in Kevin de Bruyne. It worked tremendously, especially in the first half. Even though they were lucky that Brazil missed a lot of chances in the last fifteen minutes, it’s still very impressive to knock them out of the World Cup.

This will be a great game in terms of talent on the pitch. We know for a fact that France won’t play attacking football; they will be happy to let Belgium have the ball most of the times. Maybe Belgium will set themselves up for counter-attacking again, like they did against Brazil. It remains to be seen what approach Martínez will come up with. Right-back Thomas Meunier is suspended for this one, which is a tough problem to tackle for the Spanish manager.

This will be a tight game! Our model predicts a 56.04% chance of France reaching the finale, which leaves 43.96% chance for Belgium.

 

Croatia 33% – England 67%

Is it coming home? The question is burning on everybody’s lips in England. Even though England have reached the semi-final, there is still some scepticism because they have done so by beating Panama and Tunisia in the group, Colombia (after penalties) and Sweden. If they win against Croatia and reach the final, it might be one of the easiest routes to the final in World Cup history. One of the main issues is creating chances from open play. England have scored eleven goals at this World Cup, of which only three have come from open play. Croatia are fine at defending set pieces, so scoring might be a problem for The Tree Lions in this game.

Croatia’s approach has varied a lot this tournament. It has all been about finding the right roles for superstars Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric in midfield. Croatia manager Zlatko Dalić has tried playing them together in a 4-2-3-1, with Marcelo Brozovic or Milan Badelj just behind them as a defensive midfielder. Nothing has truly worked so far, but also nothing has truly failed. Croatia haven’t impressed though, beating Denmark and Russia in the knock-outs, both after a penalty shoot-out.

In this game, expect England to have more of the ball and Croatia defending deep. This semi-final is a bit less close than the other one, simply because England have better players in general. Our model predicts a 66.96% chance of England going through to the finals. Croatia has a 33.04% chance of reaching their first World Cup final ever.

Images: Proshots