Unlike the Round of 16, the quarter-finals did not provide matches that could be termed as ‘World Cup Classics,’ with the exception of Croatia’s win on penalties against the astonishingly resilient Russia. But, the highlight remained the exit of Brazil to a sensational display of all-round brilliance from Belgium. England reached their first World Cup semi-final since 1990 while France put in the kind of performance that one would expect from a team as star-studded the one they have to beat Uruguay 2-0. This is just the second time in the tournament’s history that Croatia have reached the semi-final stage of the World Cup.
July 10, 11.30 PM: France vs Belgium
Among the four teams, only France have qualified for the semi-finals in any of the previous four editions of the World Cup. They will be playing Belgium in what promises to be a humdinger of a match. Both sides possess some of the most recognisable names in the sport. France disappointed somewhat in the group stage considering what was expected off their talented set of players but their display in the against Argentina and Uruguay indicated that they are finally getting into their rhythm. Kylian Mbappe has exploded into international reckoning with his performances in the knockouts.
Belgium, on the other hand, have been pretty much the only team in the top five rankings who have justified their position. Their dramatic 3-2 win over Japan and the subsequent 2-1 win over Brazil showed two different facets of their ability. Against Japan, they had to respond to going 2-0 down in the second half while they smothered Brazil after forcing an own goal against the run of play. The likes of Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne have ravaged defences and Thibaut Courtois, Jan Vertonghen and the rest of their own backline have shut down opposition attacks.
July 11, 11.30 PM: Croatia vs England
Croatia had to survive two penalty shootouts to get to the semi-finals and that highlights the importance of their goalkeeper Danijel Subasic. He was limping towards the end of their epic quarter-final match against Russia they will be hoping that it was only fatigue and nothing serious. Luka Modric has undoubtedly been their standout outfield player but they would want the likes of Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Rakitic to step up. Both are influential players for their respective clubs but their contributions have been few and far in between in Russia.
England’s fans may already be in party-mode but their players have remained focused on the task at hand, as was evident from the efficiency they displayed in their 2-0 win over Sweden. It was the second match of this tournament in which their talismanic striker Harry Kane did not score, with the first being their final group game against Belgium in which he did not play at all. They thus showed that while they may need him for spot-kicks, England have many players who are capable of scoring from regular play or set-pieces. Jordan Pickford has been a revelation between the sticks while centre-half Harry Maguire has justified the trust that he has received from manager Gareth Southgate.