herald

Wednesday 18 July 2018

We've no reason to fear France

Belgium’s Thomas Vermaelen at a press conference in Dedovsk, Russia
Belgium’s Thomas Vermaelen at a press conference in Dedovsk, Russia

Belgium have nothing to fear when they meet France in tomorrow's World Cup semi-final, having already beaten Brazil, according to midfielder Nacer Chadli.

The Red Devils progressed to the l ast four by defeating Brazil, who many had tipped to win a sixth World Cup after a raft of high-profile nations were eliminated before the quarter-finals.

Belgium needed a stoppage-time Chadli winner against Japan just to secure that fixture against the Brazilians but the West Brom midfielder insists that the 2-1 victory over Neymar and Co has boosted their confidence.

"If you can beat Brazil, you do not have to fear anyone," Chadli said.

"We respect everybody but if we play with fear we will not be able to beat France.

"For us, it was a big step to win against Brazil - also for our confidence and to show everybody that we could do it. Belgium is a small country, we have 11m people. We are very proud of what we can achieve and what we can do as a group."

Their semi-final appearance this year equals Belgium's best ever effort at a World Cup after they also made that round in 1986.

Much has been said about this 'golden generation', though, and defender Thomas Vermaelen insists Roberto Martinez's men will not be satisfied if their campaign ends tomorrow.

"Our ambition goes further than reaching the semi-finals," Vermaelen said.

Proud

"We can be proud so far of how we've performed in this World Cup - reaching a semi-final is a big achievement but we want to go further and don't give up.

"We have to believe in our chances to get to the final and eventually win it."

Like Belgium, France have a star-studded side, yet Barcelona's Vermaelen identified Paris St Germain's teenage striker Kylian Mbappe as their biggest threat.

"Everyone's talking about Mbappe at the moment," he said.

"He's having a good tournament, the qualities he has, he can change a game within a split second.

"But they have more qualities. Even when he got changed you have (Ousmane) Dembele who can come on. I know him very well and he can be very dangerous.

"(Olivier) Giroud has different qualities and can be very dangerous in the box. (N'Golo) Kante in the middle of the park who is very, very important.

"For me at the moment it would be Mbappe who is the strongest. It's difficult to pick out one player who can change a game, but it's probably Mbappe."

Belgium have scored 14 goals in five matches and were hugely impressive in their 2-1 quarter-final victory over the Brazilians, with Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne combining to devastating effect to oust the five-times world champions.

In contrast, France sleep-walked through the group stages, eking out wins over Australia and Peru before a stultifying 0-0 draw with Denmark.

Their early struggles had 'Les Bleus' being written off in some quarters, but all that changed when they faced Argentina in the last 16 in what must be a leading contender for the most exciting match of the tournament.

Didier Deschamps tweaked his formation, effectively freeing up Mbappe on the right to run at the Argentine defence, and what followed was a wonderful display of attacking football that France won 4-3.

The victory boosted France's morale, and they followed it up with a workman-like 2-0 win over Uruguay that was impressive because of how well they managed to control the game against tricky opponents.

Against Brazil, Martinez showed tactical adventure, as he pushed target man Lukaku to the wing to allow De Bruyne to operate as a 'false nine'.

The strategy worked, and De Bruyne scored his first goal in Russia.

Tomorrow's clash in St Petersburg has all the makings of a classic, with fans and viewers likely to be treated to the sight of two attacking teams going toe-to-toe.

"It's a super exciting game with great players on both sides," France defender Benjamin Pavard said. "It's going to be a man's match and we will have to step up."

France, world champions in 1998, are slight favourites to go through according to most bookmakers, but Belgium tend to step up their game against these particular European rivals, if history is anything to go by.

Of the 73 meetings between the teams, Belgium have won 30 and France 24.

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