France will meet neighbours Belgium in the semi-finals of the World Cup on Tuesday as they attempt to reach a third final in 20 years.
Belgium, after eliminating title favourites Brazil, are hoping to reach the final for the first time and fulfil the potential of their much-lauded “golden generation”.
Here are three key battles in Saint Petersburg that could decide which team moves on to the July 15 final in Moscow.
French teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe announced himself on the global stage with a brilliant two-goal display in a last-16 defeat of Lionel Messi’s Argentina. He is his country’s joint-leading scorer in Russia with three goals, alongside Antoine Griezmann, although the 19-year-old was given far fewer opportunities against a solid Uruguay defence in the quarter-final.
His lightning speed down the right and game-changing ability will put an experienced Belgium defence to the test as coach Roberto Martinez ponders a slight reshuffle. Jan Vertonghen will be one of those primarily responsible for nullifying Mbappe, although the Tottenham defender could push forward into a wing-back role with Thomas Vermaelen slotting into the left of a back three due to the suspension of Thomas Meunier.
Vertonghen is the only Belgian player with 100 international caps, and the 31-year-old’s looping header sparked a dramatic fightback in the 3-2 victory over Japan in the last 16.
Romelu Lukaku vs Samuel Umtiti After disappointing campaigns at the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016.—AFP