World Cup Preview: France v Croatia

Who? France - Croatia
Where? Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
When? July 15, 17:00 (CET local time)

France (Omri Tancman)

During the round of 16 match between France and Argentina, Benjamin Pavard made a small history. He was the first French defender in 20 years to score a goal in an official match. The last one was Lilian Thuram. Interestingly, the game in which Thuram scored was at the semi-final of 1998 World Cup in France. The rival was no other than Croatia, their rival in this final.

The comparison to Thuram and the resemblance to him was something referred to by Pavard himself as well. In a recent interview, he stated the fact that like Thuram he is also playing for his club as a central defender while in the national team he deploys as a right back. When asked about his future, he admitted that he would love to have the same career as Thuram made and he serves as an inspiration for him.

Thuram himself was full of compliments towards the young prodigy. Pavard played with Thuram’s son in the U-19 Euro 2015 for France, and already then he showed his great football intelligence, according to Thuram. After the match against Argentina, Thuram was even more impressed. It was not only by Pavard's goal but also by the fact that he was impressive as a starter, even though he was just a sub before the tournament, like Thuram in Euro 1996.

Thuram’s goal against Croatia is one of his greatest moments without any doubt, but what gave Thuram a long successful career was his consistent premium ability on defense. If Pavard wishes to be the next Thuram, like many expect of him, he can start by stopping Croatian star winger Perisic, even if he will not score against Croatia, like Thuram.

Croatia (Eden Roitfarb)

It’s not a dream, it’s a reality. Croatia are in the World Cup final for the first time! After dominating the group stage with 3 wins out of 3, the Croatians completed another triple in the knockout stages: Every game went to extra time, and after two penalty shootout victories, England have succumbed to a Mario Mandžukić goal that completed history.

It was yet another heroic performance by a side that is constantly overlooked by other teams and foreign media, but the truth is that Croatia’s achievements are remarkable since they gained independence and they should be considered a part of world football’s elite nations, regardless of Sunday’s score. Since the beginning of the 2018 World Cup, and especially after the thrashing of Argentina, the feeling was that 1998 is happening all over again. The Vatreni finished 3rd that summer, and now they face the same French team who broke their hearts – as Lilian Thuram scored a rare brace for the hosts to cancel Davor Šuker’s opener that night in the Stade de France. Back to 2018, Croatia already overcame the host obstacle after eliminating Russia, and they will want to come full circle by conquering their French demons as well.

This task would be more difficult than ever. Despite showing incredible strength and resilience, it is inevitable that fatigue is going to play a factor in the final. Facing an athletic French team with one of the youngest squads in this tournament, who also enjoy an extra day of rest, can be too much to handle for the Croatians who are the first team in World Cup history to play three extra times in a row. However, in common Eastern European fashion, you can count on Croatia to give it all – as they surely can recognize the importance and rarity of the moment. After all, they have almost failed to qualify to the World Cup due to a tumultuous campaign that was full of internal disputes and poor football, and only the appointment of coach Zlatko Dalić sparked a crucial last gasp victory in Ukraine to reach the playoffs. Surely, no one would have thought the relatively unknown Dalić, who spent the previous 7 years in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, could take this side so far. Perhaps France are favorites, according to most experts, but this just might be Croatia’s moment. Zagreb is waiting to burst into celebrations.

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World Cup Preview: France v Belgium

Who? France - Belgium
Where? Krestovsky Stadium, St. Petersburg
When? July 10, 20:00 (CET local time)

When thinking about a semi-final between France and Belgium the first thing that might come to mind is the rivalry between them. After all, they have played each other more than 70 times. Their last World Cup meeting was in 1986 in the match for third place. It was the last time Belgium have reached the semi-final of a World Cup. Moreover, besides football, there is some cultural rivalry between both nations. This rivalry is reflected in popular jokes in France about Belgian stupidity, including a whole genre called Belgian jokes. In other fields, people from both nations can still fight over the origin of fries, or about the fact that some national Belgian icons such as Herge and Jacques Brel were adopted and, in a way, “hijacked” by French culture.

All those disagreements are very small at the end of the day. Underneath them lies a truth that might not be very pleasant for some French or Belgians to hear. The truth is that they are very similar in many aspects, and language is not the only one. One field in which the similarities are very vivid is football.

Both teams have gone through similar processes in the last years and their arrival to semi-finals reflects it. These processes can be summed up to three aspects: 1. Long term investment in youth systems and players. 2. Weakness of the local league and export of players to stronger leagues. 3. Inclusion of second-generation immigrants in sports.

As for France, the name of Clairefontaine academy is well known, with former star players such as Anelka and Henry coming from it. In the current French squad several players got their football education there, such as Matuidi, Mbappe and Giroud, all starters in this World Cup. While France is known for years already for youth programs and development of young talents, the Belgian case is a bit more complicated. After suffering from several bad years in the late nineties, the Belgian football federation decided to heavily invest in future football generation. This investment was made through a thoroughly structured plan. The aim was to identify and develop talented players while keeping them in a solid tactical structure staring from early ages. One key element of this plan was to enable young talents to play as much as they can, so they will be able to demonstrate their talents.

This demonstration led to a situation that is common for Belgian and French football. The situation is reflected by the weakness of the local league, which serves as a contrast to the strength of players playing outside their homeland. The best example is seen nowadays in Russia. Only one out of 22 first XI players of Belgium and France in their quarter final matches, Kylian Mbappe, is playing in his local league.

Besides a young generation of world class talents and massive export of this talent outside, Belgian and French football share another important aspect in common. Out of 23 players in each squad, 18 players in France, and 11 players in Belgium belong to different communities of immigrants. In both countries, immigration is a very delicate issue and football reflects it. In France, for example, right wing leader Le Pen criticized Raymond Domenech in 2006 for selecting too many black players. In Belgium, star striker Lukaku admitted that when he was younger he suffered from racism and doubts about his age. Moreover, Lukaku whose father is Congolese, stated that he himself feels that when things are not going so well, suddenly he is no longer referred to as Lukaku the Belgian striker, but Lukaku, the Belgian striker of Congolese descent.

Therefore, it might not be surprising that one of Lukaku’s best friends is one of his rivals this semi-final, Pogba. Pogba, son of immigrants as well, has suffered from racism in several occasions, including in France itself due to his immigrant and Muslim background. But like Lukaku, he represents a new generation of players who are not ashamed of their origins.

Lukaku and Pogba serve as a good reflection of football in Belgium and France. They emerged as young talents in their countries, benefited from high-quality training programs and went as young kids to play outside their country. Furthermore, as second-generation immigrants, they represent the impact football has on society in France and Belgium. As two high profile stars for their national teams, they represent the process each country has made with its football as well as common processes in both countries. But more than everything, they are a symbol for both nations that after a long period of waiting and preparing, their future starts now.

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World Cup Preview: Uruguay v France

Who? Uruguay - France
Where? Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
When? July 6, 16:00 (CET local time)

Uruguay (Gilad Seroussi)

We are still on our journey! It was very difficult, Uruguay even conceded a goal for the first time in Russia 2018, but in the end the European champions couldn't breach the formidable Uruguayan defense that kept its marginal advantage until the final whistle. On we go to our next battle, and each time the bar is set higher, now facing the mighty French who sent Uruguay's neighbors home.

Tabarez is satisfied with the formation and style of play in the last two games; a combative take of the traditional Diamond formation, with Bentancur as the untraditional No. 10. But upfront there will probably be an important change, as it doesn't seem likely that Cavani, el Matador, will be fit for the important match. Maybe not in his most clinical version in the group stages, but Cavani is playing very well so far in the World Cup and scored the last 3 goals for Uruguay. In recent training sessions Stuani took Cavani's place alongside Suarez, and he will probably do so against France. While not as good as Cavani, Stuani had a terrific season in Girona, arguably the best in his career, and he will add protection when defending set pieces and threat in attacking set plays; something not to be treated lightly, as it's probably Uruguay's main threat apart from the quick transitions. 

Without El Matador, Laxalt's brilliant performance in the last couple of games will be even more crucial for Uruguay's quick attacking efforts. Another key player is Lucas Torreira, who will need to fight off, again, the opponent's midfield and attacking lines packed with quality and physically intimidating players (not only for the 1.78 meters youngster). He did really well before, but as I said the bar is set higher now.

If in the group stage I could have written about Uruguay under the new label of "favorites", this label is long gone by now. But they've won the respect of their opponents being a formidable, tough and organized team, where each player runs until he can't run anymore. Once again Uruguay will set off to prove it's not only about talent and individuals.  Vamos Uruguay noma!

France (Omri Tancman)

When thinking of one French player who could easily be integrated and blended within the Uruguayan national team, one name comes up immediately and that is Antoine Griezmann. For Griezmann the blending goes far beyond his ability. In his case, the blending is cultural and historical.

After being rejected from several clubs in France when he was younger, Griezmann decided to cross the border and take his chances with Spanish club Real Sociedad. The first coach who gave him any chances was a Uruguayan, Martin Lasarte. Furthermore, one of his closest teammates at the time, who used to drive him to practices was Uruguayan either, Carlos Bueno. Bueno and Griezmann have established friendly relationship, and one of their current results is Griezmann’s habit to drink Mate, the famous South American drink.

But Griezmann’s ties to Uruguay do not end with his period in Sociedad. Since 2014 he is collaborating with Uruguay’s starting center backs, Godin and Jimenez. Apparently, these close ties and maybe somewhat South American fighting mentality of Griezmann, enabled him to even tweet some cheerful tweets supporting his fellow Uruguayan teammates which will become rivals on Friday.

With the last two meetings in world cups between France and Uruguay ending scoreless, perhaps the best man to break the draught is the one who knows best is opponents from the inside. In this case it is Greizmann.

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World Cup Preview: France v Argentina

Who? France - Argentina
Where? Kazan Arena, Kazan
When? June 30, 16:00 (CET local time)

France (Omri Tancman)

In many cases, when two teammates at club level play each other in the World Cup there is a little bit of magic in the air. It is always interesting to watch how personal contacts and friendships transform very easily to a rivalry once money is transferred with national pride. This will be the case for Samuel Umtiti and Lionel Messi

Between both players there is a lot of mutual respect. For example, when rumors in March linked Umtiti with leaving Barcelona, one of the most vocal players to keep Umtiti in the club was Messi. Umtiti as well shows a lot of appreciation for Messi. Umtiti was asked in a press conference towards the game between France and Argentina about his relationship with Messi. According to Umtiti, it is almost impossible to stop Messi due to his abnormal qualities and his desire to win every game. Umtiti, the one who’s supposed to stop Messi during Barcelona trainings, said that Messi’s technical abilities and different eye to the game, as he witnesses every day, is what makes Messi so difficult to stop for defenders but at the same time so admired and appreciated by them.

Even though Umtiti maintains a close relationship with Messi, he admits that he did not contact Messi at all and that he prefers to concentrate on his own performance during the game. Both players might probably exchange some impressions and words after the highly expected clash will end. In these moments, it maybe will be nice for them to remember that after all its just football. However, it seems that Umtiti’s words and maybe also both players’ behavior after the game can be a good reminder that there are moments in which it is much more than just a game.

Argentina (Yossi Medina)

Argentina's pressure is almost over. After facing the possibility of elimination in the group stage, Argentina managed to complete a wonderful game against Nigeria and reach the round of 16. Sampaoli and his players now left over this pressure and now there is only one tiny expectation that the fans still want their team to achieve – winning the World Cup.

It wouldn't be easy, thanks for both the team's performance until now and the draw. Although Argentina eventually defeated Nigeria, we need to remember that the team showed weak performance in their first two matches. Moreover, Nigeria missed few chances to make the thing a bit complicated for Argentina and no one can promise that France will not use it in order to get an advantage.

If Argentina wants to reach the final, they have to walk through a tough journey. Uruguay or Portugal will wait in the quarter finals, Brazil might be their opponents in the semi finals. These rivals are much stronger than Argentina's opponents in the group stage, so they just can't play in the same level as in the previous stage.

Some optimists say that playing against France can lead to the final, as happened in the history. The teams faced each other twice in the past World Cup, in 1930 group stage and in 1978 group stage. In both of the occasions, Argentina won as part from a journey to the World Cup final.

The fans can be found already everywhere in Kazan. Just like it was in St. Petersburg few days ago, they will bring the Latin vibes to the stadium and will make it to feel like a match in Buenos Aires. With such a support, everybody is ready for their show.

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World Cup Preview: Denmark v France

Who? Denmark - France
Where? Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
When? June 26, 16:00 (CET local time)


One Instagram post in the last week is worth a full throwback for Denmark. It was in June 24, 1998, 20 years ago. Denmark met France for the last match of the group stage, knowing that a draw will be enough to qualify for the next stage. Even though that France eventually defeated them, Denmark quailed since South Africa failed to win in their game.

This memory was posted by Peter Schmeichel, the legendary goalkeeper of Denmark in that World Cup. Peter will sit comfortably while his son, Kasper, will try to do the same with Denmark in 2018. Kasper showed in this World Cup more than once why he is worth the place as a leading goalkeeper not only in Denmark, but also in a league like the Premier League.

It took a long time until Kasper Schmeichel reached this peak. Kasper failed to impress, played in some of lowest levels, such Scottish team Falkirk and League Two side Notts County. In 2012 he arrived to Leicester. It took three seasons in the Championship and one more season in the Premiership bottom, until he finally found himself in his greatest moment.

The marvelous 2016 season, the year that Leicester City surprised the world all the way to the English title, was Kasper's moment. With one of the most impressive defensive record in the league and his first championship title, Kasper could feel some of the glory that his father had.

Today, it's clear that Kasper will not be close to Peter's achievements. Maybe he will never reproduce the iconic somersault from 1999 Champions League final, but Kasper can do something else. He can still make a decent journey with Denmark in the World Cup. If that will happen, Kasper Schmeichel may have a special place in the Danish football hall of fame, right next to his father.


Didier Deschamps and France can be satisfied enough with their way until now. With 6 points in their first matches, Les Bleus are already thinking about the next stage. The calculations are now updated to see whether it will better to be in the first or the second place, after Argentina might fail to reach the round of 16.

France and Denmark met a few times in the past during the World Cup. Except from 1998, the teams also played each other in the 2002 World Cup, also in the last match day. Denmark won 2:0 in a game that was the grand finale for one of the worst World Cups in the history of France. 16 years later, France are in a completely different position.

One of the amazing facts about France is about their second consecutive knockout stage appearance. Amazingly, it happened only once before, in 1982 and 1986. For years France failed to impress for two World Cups in a row. Notably, we can mention their two group stage eliminations in 2002 and 2010, four years after reaching the World Cup final.

France are always favorites in these matches. Now all they have to do is enjoy the game and check what will be their destiny in the future of this World Cup.

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World Cup Preview: France v Peru

Who? France - Peru
Where? Yekaterimburg Arena, Yekaterinburg
When? June 21, 17:00 (CET local time)


In a recent article published by L’equipe, the French national team was analyzed according to the different ties and friendships of its players between them. Surprisingly or not, two of the main men were Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba. Both players are very close to many other players in the French squad and especially between each other. For example, on May 29th, Pogba invited Griezmann to a dinner at his mother’s house.

It seems that for many, the quality of the French squad and players such as Pogba and Griezmann by itself is enough to achieve great results this summer in Russia. One common saying is that with this abundance of talent French players do not need a coach, and if they do need one, Deschamps isn’t the right coach. According to some of the critics coach Deschamps doesn’t have enough quality in order to guide his players to success. These critics were even louder after the weak performance of ‘Les Bleus’ against Australia. In fact, the richness of talent in the French squad enables Deschamps to still experiment and probably change formation ahead of France’s game against Peru.

However, no matter what the formation will be, two players who are certain to start in the opening 11 are Pogba and Griezmann. These two superstars have already known ups and downs in their careers, good and bad managers and moments of success alongside moments of despair. But what they probably know is that Deschamps instructions and game plan may be important, but nonetheless the success of the French team relies heavily on their connection and linkage both in matches and after them. The upcoming game against Peru can be their opportunity to demonstrate it.


One of the most significant and moving phenomena of the first week of this world cup is the presence of South American fans in Russia. Thousands of supporters from all over Latin America have crowded Russian cities. Their effect was not overlooked by the players as well. As Miguel Trauco, Peru’s left back stated after Peru’s defeat against Denmark “It is beautiful to see 30 thousand Peruvians here in Russia. We will do everything in order to win for them.”

One important figure that can improve their chances to do so is Paolo Guerrero. After being linked with so many affairs and registered to the squad in the last minute, Peru’s captain and all time goal scoring leader was sitting on the bench in Peru’s first match against Denmark. However, against France, Guerrero is supposed to start and lead his fellow teammates against Griezmann, Pogba and their fellows.

Other than his goal scoring ability, Guerrero brings to the pitch a lot of grit and toughness. As the leader of the South American Qualification campaign in challenges and attacking aerial duels, Guerrero is no stranger to combat and dedication. These qualities, with the support of the Peruvian army of fans, may lead Peru to a surprise against France. You may say Peru fans are dreamers but as this world cup already demonstrates, they are not the only ones.

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World Cup Preview: France v Australia

Who? France - Australia
Where? Kazan Arena, Kazan
When? June 16, 12:00 (CET local time)


One of the tournament favorites is kicking off their campaign, wishing to end it with the second ever title. Their coach, Didier Deschamps,  has done it once in 1998 and wants to be part of this glory once again.

It was always a challenge for France to make the group of talented players to a team. Many remember the failure of Domenech in 2010, which ended with a completely horrible tournament. Deschamps succeeds in making the players a united group and the results are significant with a quarterfinals in the 2014 World Cup and finishing as runner-ups in Euro 2016.

Another challenge for the French team is the fact that many players are related to several tranfer rumors. Antoine Griezmann made a weird statement about his next season in Atletico Madrid, Thomas Lemar also have some issues with a possible transfer and many other players are on the usual headlines.

If these players could focus on the mission they have, France my be one of the best teams in tournament. In any other case, the French may find themselves struggling with players who don't to be part of this trip to Russia. That's where Deschamps will need to show his skills as the players' mentor in order to make them concentrate.


Australia made a long journey since the end of the qualification campaign. The Socceroos were one goalpost away from being eliminated in the Asian playoffs, but since then they had a complete change in the squad. The main one was in the manager position, when Ange Postecoglu resigned and replaced by Bert van Marwijk.

The Dutch coach made few changes in the squad and there is one player you can't miss. Daniel Arzani is the youngest player in the World Cup, born in January 1999. Arzani got his first senior call-up during the pre-World Cup preliminary squad. He impressed in both of his first two caps, including scoring a goal within a minute after he was substitute in.

Arzani will enjoy the guidance of one of the oldest players in tournament, Tim Cahill, which will be the first Australian to appear in four World Cup tournaments. Cahill is the last player left from 2006 World Cup squad, who made the best ever achievment for Australia, reaching the round of 16.

Australia knows that they are much weaker than the French team, but they hope that the spirit of their fans will follow them to Kazan. The Australian fans are well known as noisy and they will support their team until the final whistle.

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