So here we are. Exactly 31 days after it started, the Russia 2018 World Cup draws to a close, after 161 goals over the course of the first 62 games puts it up there with one of the most high scoring tournaments in its history. We head into the final two games, starting with the third fourth place playoff before we get into the game everyone has been waiting for.
BELGIUM V ENGLAND
In a rematch of their final group game, Belgium and England play off in a game that some consider to be even less important than that group stage clash which decided who topped the group.
Belgium suffered a very narrow 1-0 defeat to France, with the defensive combo of Varane and Umtiti proving just too difficult for them to get past after the French went ahead. They can take confidence that that is the only game they have failed to win in either qualification or the finals. With Lukaku seeming to be one of the few players with a slight chance of catching Kane in the race for the Golden Boot, the Red Devils will no doubt be pushing for a big win to secure their best ever finish in the World Cup.
England have shocked even their own fans with how far they managed to get, bringing some self belief back to England after disappointment after disappointment in recent tournaments. With a fairly young squad showing their ability, they may be looking at EURO 2020 or Qatar 2022 for their second major tournament victory. Their main boost will be that Kane can still top off the tournament by winning the Golden Boot, which will no doubt inspire him to push on and secure what may only be seen as a consolation prize. And with Trippier being a big injury doubt after hobbling off late into injury time against Croatia, they may have to do it without one of their best players of the tournament.
Like in the group stage, Belgium are favourites for the win here, and I think that they will be able to pull off the win.
My Prediction: Belgium win
Match played: Saturday 14th, 3:00 p.m. (BST) / 10:00 a.m. (EST)
FRANCE V CROATIA
The game that everyone has been looking forward to, so let’s hope for a great one.
France didn’t look overly convincing in their group games, grinding out narrow victories over Australia and Peru before shooting a blank against Denmark. In the knockout stages they have upped their game significantly and been very impressive, with Mbappe showing the world just why he is hyped as the next superstar of world football. Their young defence is already highly experienced, and with the talents of Pogba, Kante, Griezmann and Mbappe ahead of them, it’s a terrifying sight on paper.
Before their semi-final victory over England, people were pointing out an interesting fact that Croatia was not a country the last time the Three Lions made it to the World Cup semi-final back in 1990. Now, just 27 years after becoming an independent country, Croatia find themselves just 90 minutes away from winning football’s biggest international trophy. Conceding only once in the group stage, including a 3-0 stroll past Argentina, the Croats have came through 120 minutes in each of their knockout stage games, including two penalty shootout victories. With Modric and Rakitic pulling the strings in midfield, they have arguably the best midfield partnerships in the world, while Lovren seems to have transformed this season from a joke to a very solid defender, perhaps not ranked as “one of the best in the world” as he described himself after the midweek victory. They have shown that they are not a side simply to be written off, and are living up to the dark horse label that has been placed on them for the past few tournaments.
France should win this one comfortably on paper, but Croatia seem to always find a way of getting past their opponents, so the French may not get it their own way. But with Mbappe looking as threatening as he has done in the past few games, I can’t see Vida and Lovren being able to keep him quiet the whole game, so I’m going with a France win.
My Prediction: France win
Match played: Sunday 15th, 4:00 p.m. (BST) / 11:00 a.m. (EST)
So that’s what I think will happen in the last two games of the World Cup. It’s been a very entertaining month of football, and now we have just four weeks left until the main leagues start to return to action and bring our weekly dose of football back again for another year.
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