I doubt many punters would have predicted the four teams that will contest the 2018 World Cup semi-finals, though statisticians may well have pinpointed a couple of reasons why some of the seeded teams aren’t in the semi-finals. Number one seeds Germany joined a long list of recent World Cup holders that have exited at the group stage, whilst the poor record of South American teams in World Cups held in Europe is perhaps a valid reason why the likes of Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico won’t be winning this year.
Anyway, however you look at it, we’re left with two interesting semi-finals between France and Belgium and England and Croatia – so, let’s see if we can find any stats that may point us towards finding the 2018 World Cup finalists.
World Cup Semi-Final Stats
The two semi-finals at the 2014 World Cup were the two most contrasting semi-finals ever, with Germany beating Brazil 7-1 in 90 minutes, whilst the other semi-final was decided on penalties after the match ended 0-0. For the record, 12 of the last 18 World Cup semi-finals have been decided in 90 minutes. Meanwhile, five of the six semi-finals that were draws after 90 minutes have had to be decided on penalties.
France vs Belgium (Tuesday 10 July, 19.00)
France have done everything asked of them so far without appearing to play particularly great football, with wins against Australia and Peru and a draw against Denmark good enough for them to win Group C. However, they showed their attacking capabilities when scoring four against Argentina and their all-round efficiency when beating Uruguay 2-0 without ever looking threatened.
However, Belgium have probably impressed most out of the all the teams remaining in the competition. They were one of only three teams to win all of their group games, whilst they showed their versatility to come back from 2-0 down against an inspired Japan. They were then value for their win against Brazil having never really looked like losing against the second-best team in the world.
Of course, despite Belgium being the highest-ranked team left in the competition, France have always been priced-up lower than Belgium by the bookies. However, recent results between the two teams suggest France are far from certainties to repeat their win over Belgium when the pair last met in the World Cup in 1986, when France emerged 4-2 victors after extra-time.
The last three meetings between the pair have resulted in to 0-0 draws in 2011 and 2013, but Belgium won 4-3 the last time they met in 2015. That was around the time Belgium started to adopt a more attacking style of football and that has certainly been the case in Russia where they have been involved in some high-scoring matches so far. Therefore, I’d be more inclined to back Belgium to win than France. However, as it’s easy to see this being a high-scoring game, the value-bet may be for both teams to score in 90 minutes.
France vs Belgium Value-Bet: Both Teams To Score @ 1.85 BetStars
France vs Belgium Prediction: Belgium To Win @ 3.20 SpreadEx
Croatia vs England (Wednesday 11 July, 19.00)
Croatia didn’t impress during World Cup qualifying but looked more than useful in winning Group D, proving far too good in possession for Nigeria and Iceland, whilst they also highlighted just how good they are at counter-attacking when exploiting all the holes that Argentina left for them to exploit. They haven’t impressed as much since in either the round-of-16 or the quarter-finals but neither Denmark or Russia afforded them any room to play.
However, they showed their resilience to beat Denmark on penalties, whilst even the passionate Russian supporters couldn’t stop them hitting back after Russia had taken the lead in extra-time, before going on to win a second penalty shootout.
England are just as much surprise semi-finalists as Croatia though. However, there’s no doubt that their stature and confidence has grown with each of their victories against Tunisia, Panama, Colombia, and Sweden. A penalty-shootout win against Colombia also broke the England hoodoo regarding penalty shootouts and that new-found confidence was very much there for everyone to see against Sweden. Goals for Maguire and Ali in that 2-0 win also showed that England aren’t as reliant on Harry Kane to score the goals as they were coming into the tournament and that may free up England’s Captain now Croatia have more goal-scoring threats to worry about.
Gareth Southgate’s positivity also seems to be proving a big motivation to both his players and the English public, and he’s not going to miss the chance to tell his players that England won the last two matches between the two teams 4-1and 5-1 during World Cup qualifying in 2010. Of course, none of England’s current young lions featured in those matches, whilst Croatia also have a new-look team that has plenty of big-name stars that play for some of Europe’s most high-profile clubs.
Tournament stats suggest that the high-scoring games in 2010 won’t be repeated though, with both England’s last three games and Croatia last three games producing less than 2.5 goals. However, there’s a good chance that neither team will want this game to go to extra-time. Croatia have already had to endure two lots of extra-time and penalties and, if they haven’t already left their mark, surely another long game will leave them vulnerable in the final.
Meanwhile, England have looked at their best in the first hour of all their games so far. Colombia certainly had the best of the play in the last half hour of their round-of-16 match and the first period of extra-time, though England did rally to look the best team in the second-period of extra-time. Sweden also staged a rally in the last half-hour of the quarter-final and could have easily scored but for a couple of excellent saves by Jordan Pickford.
Therefore, England look sure to try and put this game to bed early with a couple of goals. However, these tactics should also leave plenty of room for Croatia to try and exploit and it’s easy to see this game being close before ending up 2-1 to either team, with England just preferred.