And then there were four. Russia lost a heartbreaker to Croatia on penalties, but credit to the hosts as they surprised millions by making it to the quarterfinals. France beat Uruguay to advance and striker Edinson Cavani’s absence due to injury clearly played a role as the South Americans were held goalless. Despite Harry Kane not finding the back of the net, England eased past an impotent Sweden 2-0. Finally, Belgium knocked out Brazil 2-1 thanks to a stellar performance from Kevin de Bruyne.
(All kickoffs EST)
France vs. Belgium (7/10 2:00pm)
Our first semifinal match pits two European neighbors against one another. Both countries possess a wealth of attacking talent and each have scored a minimum of two goals in all of their respective knockout round games. French players Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann have 6 goals between them, while Belgian forwards Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku can boast the same strike rate. However the talent does not end there. Each country is solid in every third of the pitch from defense to attack. Midfield match ups will be a delight as Belgium’s Kevin de Bruyne and France’s Paul Pogba will go head to head just as they do when the two meet in the Premier League for their respective Manchester clubs. Keeper Thibaut Courtois and counterpart Hugo Lloris are considered by many to be two of the best in the world. My pre-tournament pick to win the World Cup was (and still is) France, but the football world is in for an amazing match. It is sure to be thoroughly entertaining and may even need penalties to provide a winner. Les Bleus to advance to the final.
England vs. Croatia (7/11 2:00pm)
Shouts of “football is coming home!” are becoming more and more prevalent as the the Three Lions navigate their way to a potential World Cup final. England hasn’t exactly had the toughest route of the remaining four, but as as the old adage goes, you can only beat the teams you’ve been matched up against. Adding to England’s expectations is the fact that they’ve won a penalty shootout for the first time in many a tournament. Factor in a lethal Harry Kane and there’s no wonder why the excitement levels in the England camp are so high. Conversely, Croatia has had a rough go of it these past two games. Having run rampant during the group stage, they needed penalties to advance on both of the last two occasions (most recently against lowly Russia) and have looked sluggish at best. Still, they have the talent to propel them forward and even avoided an injury scare last game as goalkeeper Danijel Subasic recovered from a suspected hamstring injury and saw out the remainder of the match – which included having to face penalties! Expect a nail-biter but England will have their day.