BILLY BUNTER

Weblog: The football punter

France and Belgium to provide goals galore

World Cup semi-final
BBC1, 7pm Tuesday

A brilliant World Cup could get the semi-final it deserves when neighbours France and Belgium slug it out in St Petersburg.

France, a more complete team than Belgium, deserve to be favourites but Roberto Martinez's outsiders carry a strong attacking threat which suggests backing both teams to score may be the best bet despite the enormity of the occasion.

Teams tend to tense up in high-pressure situations, but for Belgium to maximise their potential the Red Devils will have little choice but to play to their strengths, which is to provide quality service for Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard.

That classy trio decided Friday's quarter-final against Brazil as Belgium raced into a two-goal advantage before just about withstanding the constant pressure from the ante-post favourites in the second period.

Brazil's expected goals figure was around 2.5 - and that's without the penalty controversy surrounding Gabriel Jesus - which shows that despite Martinez changing to a more conservative shape their defensive issues seen earlier in the competition remain.

Belgium conceded twice to Tunisia and Japan before Martinez switched to a back four and employed a midfield diamond against Brazil. It got the best out of De Bruyne, who scored a sensational counter-attacking goal, while Hazard and Lukaku also played major parts in seeing off the South American challenge.

However, Thomas Meunier's yellow card and subsequent suspension means another reshuffle is required with either the under-performing Yannick Carrasco or Adnan Januzaj used as an attacking wing-back or Toby Alderweireld moving across from centre-back.

Neither solution is perfect and a general lack of pace across the defence could be exposed by France's flair players Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann.

Les Bleus have rarely dominated matches at this World Cup but they continue to leave the impression there is more to come.

The only time they got into any kind of trouble came against the run of play as Argentina scored twice either side of half-time but a devastating spell of three goals in 11 minutes turned the match on its head with Mbappe notching twice and Benjamin Pavard scoring arguably the best goal of the tournament.

France scored with both of their shots on target against Uruguay but they always looked in control and Blaise Matuidi's return from suspension gives them another experienced head to help manage the game against the gung-ho Belgians.

Matuidi, Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante is a vastly superior midfield to Belgium's - they may be up against Marouane Fellaini, Nacer Chadli and Axel Witsel, and that battle could decide the tie.

It helps to explain why France have taken on the mantle as World Cup favourites and they look the more likely side to book the first place in the final.

Recommendation
Both teams to score

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Match in Focus

19:30 Mo 22Oct ELEV

Sampdoria v Sassuolo

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Sassuolo are unbeaten in their last three against Sampdoria
Expert verdict
Sampdoria have the best defensive record this season in Italy, conceding just four goals in all competitions but they may struggle to beat a decent Sassuolo side. Samp's top scorer Gregoire Defrel will no doubt be eager to notch against his former club, although Sassuolo's only defeats this season have come at Juventus and Napoli and at home to Milan.