Fifa World Cup Analysis

Dembele is surprise Belgium pick as Matuidi returns for France

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Moussa Dembele was a surprise pick to replace the suspended Thomas Meunier in Belgium’s line-up and Blaise Matuidi was restored to the France midfield for Tuesday’s World Cup semi-final.

Matuidi missed the 2-0 quarter-final win over Uruguay due to suspension but has been recalled in place of Corentin Tolisso.

Belgium’s right wing back Meunier was cautioned for a second time in the tournament in their quarter-final victory over Brazil and Dembele takes his place in the starting side.

Dembele will play alongside Axel Witsel in the centre of midfield with Belgium coach Roberto Martinez moving Marouane Fellaini to the right.

Nacer Chadli goes from the centre to the left where he will try to nullify the threat of speedy France striker Kylian Mbappe.

Mbappe and midfielder Ngolo Kante were included in the France team despite sitting out training on Monday.

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Survivors Belgium brace for Brazil challenge

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At a World Cup rocked repeatedly by the fall of giants, Brazil and Belgium have managed to hold firm in the maelstrom and will meet in a blockbuster quarter-final in Kazan on Friday.

Most pre-tournament modelling has been put through the shredder by the eliminations of traditional heavyweights like Germany and Spain.

However, the clash of the fancied South Americans and Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’ has given the most casual of analysts reason to feel smug that, at least, they got one thing right in their scenario plotting.

The teams have progressed through different means but each arrives with confidence after rousing wins in their last starts.

Inspired by Neymar brilliance and the wiles of Willian, Brazil sent a tough Mexico side packing with a 2-0 defeat that cemented Tite’s side as favourites to claim a record-extending sixth World Cup trophy.

It was hardly such smooth sailing for the Belgians, who suffered a huge scare in their last-gasp 3-2 win over Japan.

But their marauding finish, banging in three consecutive goals late in the tie to erase a 2-0 deficit, was a sobering reminder of the firepower at Roberto Martinez’s disposal.

Against Brazil, however, Belgium’s formidable attack featuring captain Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku may be hard pressed to break down a stingy defence which has conceded one goal in their four matches at the tournament, and a total of six from their past 25.

Their win over Mexico showed textbook defending from the central pairing of Thiago Silva and Miranda, assisted by full backs Fagner and Filipe Luis.

If there is one glimmer of hope for Belgium, it might be the suspension of holding midfielder Casemiro, who picked up his second yellow card during the Mexico game.

The Real Madrid man has been key to Brazil’s structure, so his likely replacement, the 33-year-old Fernandinho of Manchester City, will have big shoes to fill.

MARCELO RECALL

Although Luis put in a solid display against Mexico, Tite may be tempted to recall his preferred left back Marcelo, who missed the match with a back injury but returned to training.

At the other end, Brazil’s attack has clicked after a disappointing start to the tournament, and even Neymar’s much-criticised histrionics could not completely overshadow a dominant performance against Mexico.

They will look to exploit a Belgium defence that has let through four goals and has a trio of big centre backs that may be exposed for pace by the nippy Neymar, Willian and Philippe Coutinho.

Belgium, bidding to reach their first semi-finals since 1986 in Mexico, face a huge challenge to knock off Tite’s men but after surviving Japan, they already feel they are playing with house money.

“We can enjoy it from the first minute,” Martinez said.

“I don’t think anyone expects us to go through to the semi-finals.”

The winner will bid for a place in the final against either France or Uruguay.

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World Cup success is becoming an addiction says Russia’s Kutepov

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World Cup hosts Russia were outsiders only weeks ago but their unexpected World Cup success has made them hungry for more as they eye a semi-final spot against Croatia, defender Ilya Kutepov said on Wednesday.

Russia edged Spain on penalties in last week’s round of 16 match after the Spaniards played more than 1,000 passes but failed to create any chances.

Kutepov, who has so far played every minute of their four matches, said his team was now allowed to dream big.

Since the end of the Soviet Union, which had reached the last four in 1966, Russia have never advanced as far as they have done in their home tournament.

“There are always chances. We are getting ready, focusing,” Kutepov said. “We have ambitions, we want to go further, everything is decided on the pitch. It is a kind of addiction – you want more and more.”

The Russians came into the tournament as the lowest-ranked team and making it through the group stage was their initial goal.

After their penalty shootout win over Spain, however, the country has been gripped by World Cup fever with Russian fans wanting more of that success.

That will require different tactics than the ones deployed against Spain where Russia sat back and soaked up the pressure with the Spaniards dominating possession but lacking a clinical edge in front of goal.

“We all understood that Spain will control the ball, it happens in every match they play with any team,” midfielder Aleksandr Golovin was quoted by Match TV as saying.

“We understood that. With the Croats we should play using our strong points, dictating our play.”

Russia face Croatia at Sochi’s Fisht Stadium on Saturday and the winner will play either England or Sweden for a spot in the July 15 final in Moscow.

“If the team has less control of the ball it doesn’t mean they are weaker,” Golovin said. “That’s just another style of play. They don’t aim to control the ball for the whole match, they aim to achieve a favourable result. From this point of view – it’s easier.

“The team that will show more muscle and will be more stubborn will win the game against Croatia.”

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Analysis: Swedes steam into last eight with big names in their wake

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Sweden’s brand of football may not be easy on the eye but on Tuesday they added Switzerland to a list already including the Netherlands, Italy and Germany as they marched into the World Cup quarterfinals.

Had results in qualifying, the playoffs and the group stage gone another way, it might be any one of that illustrious trio preparing to face Colombia or England in the last eight on Saturday.

Much as it might offend the purists, however, it is Janne Andersson’s no-name outfit who will make the trip to Samara after a typically rugged 1-0 victory over Switzerland in St Petersburg.

The Dutch, third in Brazil four years ago, were barged out of the way in qualifying when Sweden edged the three-times World Cup finalists on goal difference to finish second in a group that France won.

In the playoffs the Swedes were paired with four-times world champions Italy and sensationally saw them off over two legs to keep the Azzurri out of the World Cup for the first time since 1958.

On seeding, defending champions Germany would have expected to be in Samara on Saturday but they finished bottom of Group F in Russia, an ignominious exit that would have come sooner had Sweden held out for a few seconds more to draw their clash in Sochi.

And on Tuesday, Sweden proved that once again that dogged defending and huge collective effort can be very effective, even in the knockout stages of the World Cup.

Sure, they were helped by the fact that Switzerland were toothless up front but no team is going to find it easy to break down the Swedes.

Ranged across the pitch in a traditional 4-4-2 formation, they are happy to cede possession – Switzerland enjoyed 63 percent on Tuesday – confident that by working indefatigably for each other they would get it back.

In attack, they lack the world-class edge that Zlatan Ibrahimovic once brought but they are big and strong and keep pumping balls into the box until one falls right for them.

In St Petersburg, their goal came with an element of luck when Emil Forsberg’s shot from the edge of the area took a huge deflection off defender Manuel Akanji and spun into the net.

The yellow-shirted hordes in the stands cheered it just as loudly as they once would an Ibrahimovic wonder-strike and, like the fans, Andersson does not really care what outsiders think about the way his team plays their football.

“We know that we are a good team, we’ve earned our successes, we know how we’ve got this far,” he told a post-match news conference.

“What other teams and countries think about that, you’ll have to ask them.”

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