Belgium

France, the 1998 champions, take on Belgium in the first semi-final of World Cup 2018.

For France, who have reached this stage five times before, a win will take them to their third World Cup final – they lost to Germany in 2006 after a World Cup win at home eight years before that.

Belgium, the tournament’s top scorers, have not reached this stage since 1986 when they finished fourth.

It was a two-year process for manager Roberto Martinez to harness the individual talents of Belgium’s golden generation and bring them to the brink of the World Cup final, he said on Monday.

“It’s been two years to try and understand these footballers, the human beings behind the footballers, and to try and get a group that shared the same ambition, not just to use the national team to improve their brand,” Martinez told a news conference.

“We’ve strived to be as good as we could be at international level and it’s taken us two years to get there. But there haven’t been one or two secrets to make it work, it’s been common sense.

“It’s a group of people who share a vision of making Belgian football proud and achieving something important and these players have done that.”

In Belgium’s corner will be France’s 1998 World Cup winner Thierry Henry who is now a member of the Belgian coaching staff.

There will be a “hunger to win” and a desire to show Henry that he picked the wrong side, France forward Olivier Giroud said.

“It is bizarre to have Thierry against us in this match,” Giroud told reporters.

“I would be very proud to show Thierry that he chose the wrong camp. I would have preferred to have Henry on our side, to give me and the other French forwards advice, but I am not too jealous.”

Meanwhile, France coach Didier Deschamps is confident he has prepared his players for any tactical surprises his opposite number Martinez might spring.

“Belgium didn’t arrive here by chance. They played a great game against Brazil with a specific game plan,” said the 49-year-old Deschamps.

“Will they do something similar for us? Probably. Their team is geared forward. They keep that particular quality, but against Brazil, Martinez intensified the midfield… and the Brazilians couldn’t use those corridors.”

The teams have met 73 times before with Belgium winning on 30 occasions, France 24, and 19 matches drawn.

They last met in a friendly in 2015 and a number of Belgian and French players are team mates at club level.

Hazard and keeper Thibaut Courtois line up opposite Chelsea team mates Ngolo Kante and Olivier Giroud while Paul Pogba faces Manchester United colleagues Marouane Fellaini and Lukaku.

“We know them and they know us,” said Deschamps.

“It’s peculiar because there are many players on my team who will be facing their own club team mates. It’s an advantage on both sides, but we will seize every opportunity to reach the final.”

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