Familiar foes face off on biggest stage
Familiarity from facing each other regularly in England's Premier League will add to the flavour of tomorrow's World Cup semi-final between Belgium and France, Belgian midfielder Nacer Chadli said.
The 28-year-old from relegated West Bromwich Albion is one of 11 players in the Belgian squad members based at English clubs, to add to five in the French line-up.
"We know all these players so well. We know them at a tactical level, we know what they are capable of doing and we know their individual qualities.
"I think it's an advantage for our planning," Chadli told a news conference after Belgium's training session on the outskirts of Moscow yesterday.
Tomorrow's semi-final in St Petersburg sees team-mates from English champions Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur go head to head as well as rivalries between club colleagues from Barcelona, Paris St Germain and Monaco.
Among the appetising match-ups, Chelsea have Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and captain Eden Hazard up against N'Golo Kante and Olivier Giroud, who are certain to start for France.
Paul Pogba faces up to Manchester United club-mates Marouane Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku.
Chadli is the only player from West Brom involved tomorrow after a season in which they were relegated but in which he hardly played because of recurring thigh injuries.
"I was in a negative spiral all season at West Brom," he said.
"I was injured several times and that was not easy. I worked hard in the rehabilitation just to try and get some game time.
"For me just to get selected for the 23 to come to Russia was a victory.
"And then to be able to play, it was even nicer, not to speak of helping to score a match winner. That was tremendous."
Chadli netted a dramatic stoppage-time winner in the round of 16 against Japan as Belgium came from two goals down to win 3-2.
He had been brought on as a substitute when Belgium were in dire straits and was involved at the beginning of the decisive counter-attack, which came from a Japanese corner.
He was then in position to apply the finishing touch after sprinting the entire length of the field.
His performance meant he started against Brazil in the quarter-final in Kazan.
"The feeling after scoring that goal was unbelievable but then so was the feeling after the match against Brazil. I don't know which was nicer," Chadli added.