When Brazil secured its fifth star in 2002, no continent (meaning, Europe or South America) had won more than two in a row. And Europe hadn’t claimed consecutive titles since Italy went back-to-back in the grainy, black-and-white days of 1934 and 1938.
But now, with France and Belgium (Wednesday in St. Petersburg) and Croatia and England (Thursday in Moscow) set for the semis, a UEFA country will be crowned world champion for the fourth straight time. And the fact that four nations will have built that streak is a testament to the continent’s depth. Since Brazil’s fifth title, European sides will have taken seven of the eight available spots in the World Cup final, 13 of the past 16 semifinalists and 11 of 12 medals.
Who will make it through to the Semi-final of the 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup in Russia?
FRANCE: THE MBAPPE SHOW
Thomas Vermaelen picked out Kylian Mbappe as the major threat to Belgium’s chances of making their first appearance at a World Cup final, saying the 19-year-old forward can “decide every match in a flash”. France’s 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe lifted his already-high profile to new heights against Argentina in the round of 16, as he became the youngest player to score twice in a World Cup knockout game since Pele in 1958 with teams struggling to deal with his pace and creativity on the ball.
BELGIUM: LUKAKU EFFICIENT WITH HIS CHANCES
Romelu Lukaku is tied for second in the tournament with four goals, and he’s taken only 11 shots, tied for 16th-most in Russia. With an expected-goals total of 3.22, his average shot has been worth 0.29 xG, almost triple the average shot’s value. Five of his shots have been worth at least 0.5 xG, and none of those five were penalties. The only other player with more than three such shots at this World Cup is Lukaku’s teammate, Michy Batshuayi, with four.
CROATIA: MODRIC PUTS ON A PASSING CLINIC
Luka Modric has completed 117 passes, more than double any other Croatia player, and as his pass zone chart shows, his passing has been on a high level in both volume and accuracy. On top of that, he’s made 27 recoveries, 50% more than any of his teammates. Croatia’s captain believes the new-found unity of the England team will make them difficult opponents, unlike in the past. As they prepare for the World Cup semi-final against England in Moscow on Wednesday, the are worries about their opponents’ new-found unity. Quite simply, it is not supposed to be this way but, listening to Modric and other members of the Croatia set-up after their penalty shootout victory against Russia in the quarter‑final on Saturday night, it was plain that Gareth Southgate’s work has left them wary.
ENGLAND: ROUGH IN THE RUN OF PLAY
England’s nine goals, four were off set pieces, and three more were penalties. Despite playing four games, England ranks 22nd in the tournament with 23 shots from open play and 17th with 2.22 expected goals from open play. Only three of those shots were worth at least 0.2 xG each, which is about double the average shot quality. England’s captain insists that their ambitions will not be satisfied by a first appearance in a World Cup semi-final for 28 years and that “finishing the job” is the target in Russia. The players have been motivated further by footage of the celebrations in England, shared on social media, as they target a first appearance in the final since 1966. “I feel we want to achieve a lot more,” Dele Alli said. “That’s the great thing: we are a hungry squad. We want to keep achieving and improving together. We are not the finished article but we’ve got to the semi-finals of the World Cup, so we are excited.
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