Martinez: France's Henry is missing ingredient for Belgium

Lawrence Kim
July 11, 2018

Belgium v France for a place in a World Cup final, is already being labelled the "Thierry Henry Derby".

Hazard and Mbappe have performed wonders for Belgium and France, respectively.

Belgium will be seeking to break new ground by reaching the final for the first time in their history - indeed they have only reached the semi-finals once before, in 1986.

The European neighbours meet in Tuesday's first semi-final in Saint Petersburg for the right to play England or Croatia in Sunday's showpiece in Moscow. Kante's role could prove crucial if he can cut off the pipeline of supply to Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens. He has a specific job on the Belgium coaching staff, to coach the attacking players and counsel on strategies; it is part-time role, outside his broadcasting work in English television, and his rank in the Belgian staff hierarchy is well beneath that of manager Roberto Martinez.

What has Thierry Henry said about facing France?

"He is first and foremost French".

"We know him, he has a lot of passion for football and he will be with the Belgians and will give everything to help his team".

Antoine Griezmann, whose bagged three goals at this tournament, joins Lukaku, Mbappe and Hazard in a ultra-attacking formation. "They both deserve to be elected as best keeper of the tournament, even if I have a preference for Hugo", he said. But this is a hard situation, it is not easy for him'.

The game at Saint Petersburg Stadium, Saint Petersburg, starts at 9 p.m. local time, or 2 p.m.

The two sides last faced each other in 2015, when Belgium had edged out France in a 4-3 win.

At just 19, Mbappe has been one of the stars of the competition, marking his campaign with three goals, while his performance in the last 16 clash against Argentina has been widely regarded as one of the best on show in Russian Federation so far.

Matuidi, who was suspended for the 2-0 quarterfinal win over Uruguay last Friday, comes into midfield to replace Corentin Tolisso. Kante's speciality is that he manages to go nearly unnoticed in games despite being uber-busy; he uncomplicates matches, an underrated quality that serves to highlight his value to France.

Both teams know they would be strong favorites to finish the job in Russian Federation against either England or Croatia in the final, meaning it could be now or never for the pair to fulfil their undoubted promise.

"He'll be happy if we win because above all else he is a Frenchman", the 22-year-old left-back said. Individual skills and talent are important, but in these tournaments, it's absolutely necessary to play as a team. Opponents take to any means necessary to limit his impact, with Hazard fouled 21 times after four outings at the World Cup, that second only to Neymar (26), and his ability to draw fouls from opponents and put Belgium on the front foot is nothing but a positive.

"When you have such a solid foundation, you have the basics and clear understanding of what we want to do and achieve, it´s not a surprise that it´s going well for us". In it Griezmann and a pint-sized friend chase down Henry and, after bending over to sign a soccer ball, the player turns to a pair of teammates and says "they're our successors".

Captain Harry Kane is leading England´s charge with six goals so far, putting him top in the race for the Golden Boot.

The Manchester United striker has chipped in with four goals and, as for the diminutive midfielder, he's typically worked tirelessly in the middle of the park.

'This time it is much higher.

"England was one of the favourites for me for the tournament because they have a young and hungry team with no big, global stars, so it won´t be easy for us". The 25-year-old Varane has been does well in Russian Federation, scoring the first goal against Uruguay with a header.

Croatia could well be battling fatigue and injuries after a strength-sapping penalty shootout to edge out host nation Russian Federation on Saturday.

Croatia excluded former worldwide Ognjen Vukojevic from their delegation on Monday for posting a pro-Ukraine video clip following the win over Russian Federation.

Defender Domagoj Vida escaped with just a warning from Federation Internationale de Football Association, which bans political statements, for also appearing in the video and shouting "Glory to Ukraine!"

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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