By Jordan Zuniga
If the final four games of this year’s World Cup are anything like the last 60, it should be quite an exciting finish. It would be hard to find a more interesting final four than the one that has wound up in Russia, two teams that expected to come this far, and two that didn’t.
The two that expected semifinal berths are France and Belgium, and they will be the first semifinal matchup. The winner will play one of the two teams that have made a bit of surprise runs.
Those two are Coratia and England. Croatia will play in its second ever semifinal game, and England will compete in its third.
Here are my predictions for how the rest of the World Cup will play out.
France vs. Belgium
Both of these teams seem about even on paper, which should make for a great game, but it also makes a prediction almost impossible.
The biggest key to this game will be the young superstar Kylian Mbappe. He looked brilliant in all 90 minutes of the Argentina game, scoring 2 goals, and he had several opportunities to send home a third. But he looked lackluster throughout much of the group stages and disappeared at times against Brazil. If France hopes to win, it will need the teenage star to step up to the massive challenge ahead of him.
Belgium’s tournament has been a bit weird. It cruised through the group stage, then nearly got eliminated by Japan. Then it swatted away Brazil with ease. While Belgium is one of the superior teams in the tournament, it has tuned out at times, which could be dangerous against a French side that can score at will.
However, if Belgium can play 90 minutes of soccer at full throttle, it will beat this young French team.
Prediction: Belgium 2 France 1
Croatia vs. England
Croatia in a semifinal? England in the semifinal having won a knockout round game on penalties? Who had that one?
But that is why this tournament is so exciting; the unexpected is truly more likely than the expected. As in the Belgium/France game, neither team jumps out as a clear favorite. While the skill of the teams might be pretty similar, their style of play is very different.
With Croatia’s world-class midfield, it likes to play with a lot of possessions and build attacks methodically. England relies on the speed of its front four to build its attacks.
As often happens, the game will come down to the best players on either side. Those players are Harry Kane for England and Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric for Croatia. Modric and Rakitic have been brilliant all tournament and have created all kinds of havoc for teams in the middle of the field; look for them to do more of the same in this game.
England’s hope seems to rest on the play of their young striker Kane. He started this tournament on fire and was instrumental in the English penalty win against Colombia. But he seemed to show signs of fatigue in the last match against Sweden, and that might stem from England asking him to do too much.
Regardless, England will need him to brilliant if it hopes to beat Croatia, but even then, Croatia’s midfield will be too much for England to handle, and it should reach its first World Cup final.
Prediction: Croatia 1 England 0