World Cup semi-finals: Preview, Analysis and Betting Picks

Ryan K

David Beckham won a bet against Zlatan, Zlatan will be watching an England game in Wembley wearing an England shirt while downing fish and chips, and 2018 FIFA World Cup hosts Russia are out of the tournament. Those were the headlines you most likely saw. Zlatan’s wager arguably softened the blow of Sweden’s loss to England but for Russia, nothing could overshadow the fate they share with Sweden, Brazil, and Uruguay.

2 seems to have been the winning number of the quarterfinals. France won 2-0 against Uruguay, Belgium won 2-1 vs Brazil, England won 2-0 in their match with Sweden and Croatia was held level by Russia at 2-2 till the end of extra time. Croatia won the penalty shootout to progress to the semis.

Uruguay vs France, game summary

France’s first goal against Uruguay came from a perfectly executed set piece with Raphael Varane heading in a pinpoint cross from Antoine Griezmann. Lloris then made a magnificent save shortly after, denying a header from Uruguay’s Martin Caceres to keep France ahead. Griezmann ended the scoring in the second half thanks in part to a goalkeeping error from Uruguay’s Fernando Muslera who parried his shot into the goal. France ultimately kept a clean sheet but one could only surmise what a fit Cavani could’ve done for Uruguay.

Brasil vs Belgium, game summary

The Seleção started strong against what looked like a nervy and rattled Red Devils but luck clearly wasn’t on their side. Thiago Silva’s header from Neymar’s well-delivered corner kick was denied by the post – what would’ve been the first goal of the game for Brazil just within 8 minutes from kick off. About 5 minutes later, it was Belgium’s Nacer Chadli’s turn to deliver from the corner which deflected off Brazil’s Fernandinho to give Belgium the lead. Belgium then began to play more comfortably and when the opportunity presented itself, Kevin De Bruyne needed no such luck to produce a stunning 2nd goal for his team in the 31st minute. Brazil played better in the 2nd half and substitute Renato Augusto earned them a goal in the 76th minute, converting a cross from Philippe Coutinho.  But it just wasn’t Brazil’s day: Coutinho uncharacteristically wasted 2 clear chances later on and Belgium’s goalkeeper – Thibaut Courtois – made a fantastic stretch to the keep Neymar’s ball out from coming through the top corner and equalizing before the whistle.  

Sweden vs England, game summary

It was England’s other “Harry” who scored the first goal of the match: Center back Harry Maguire headed in his first goal for the national team to give England the lead against Sweden at halftime. Midfielder Dele Alli added to the scoreline in the 2nd half for England’s second, and the last goal of the game.  Effective as they were, it wasn’t England’s attack that got them through to the semi-finals: it was the heroics of an inspired Jordan Pickford – the Three Lions keeper – that won them the match. While Sterling and Kane couldn’t convert chances in front of goal, Pickford was busy keeping the lead. Pickford kept a clean sheet with 3 astonishing saves against the Swedish offense. He was an absolute pleasure to watch, England fan or not.

Russia vs Croatia, game summary

One can’t help but highlight Russia’s loss over Croatia’s win. A wondergoal from Denis Cheryshev against Croatia had Russia believing. No one expected them to make it this far yet suddenly, it seemed like they were going all the way to the finals. That was until Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic assisted Andrej Kramaric to an equalizer 8 minutes after Cheryshev’s stunner. Russia’s defense got cozy and enjoyed the dream too much. Croatia didn’t lead until 10 minutes into extra time thanks to Vida’s header from a set piece but Russia returned the favor with Mario Fernandes equalizing and forcing the game into penalties. Fernandes’ heroics didn’t last though as he missed from the spot, dragging the shot wide. Croatia won 4-3 on penalties and will progress to the semi-finals.

France vs Belgium: analysis, prediction and pick

This battle will be won or lost in midfield. Both teams are deadly on the counter and cutting those passing lines will be decisive. Both teams will also have to play smart and keep tempers at bay. Fellaini and Pogba have been fortunate to not have gotten yellow in their previous games but carelessness could have their respective teams playing with one man down. Theatrics won’t work: something Mbappe learned as he tried to do a Neymar so he should stick to what he does best.

Belgium are great on paper but on the pitch, there’s an air of uncertainty about them. They also take a while to warm up. France have been great but can be careless. They will have to keep focused.

Belgium can’t afford to waste their chances in front of goal if they are to beat France. Lukaku needs better ball control to maximize his breaks. He’s lost a couple of great goalscoring opportunities thanks to a touch too heavy on the ball.  That being said, ball control and finishing are arguable advantages France have over Belgium. That first touch on the ball will make all the difference and France will take their chances well.

Our pick: France

Our pick is France to progress, currently offered at odds of about -140 (8/11) with major bookmakers.

A draw on regulation is a distinct possibility at this stage, where everyone will be very prudent.

The better bet is on team progressing, not winning in regulation and we believe that France has the upper hand a solid favorite to win here.

Croatia vs England: analysis, prediction and pick

Croatia will be tired. They’ve been pushed to 2 successive penalty shootouts which they were fortunate enough to survive. England, on the other hand, seem to still have a lot of energy but their forwards have been rather unfortunate in front of goal during their last game.

Croatia will want to finish the game before extra time if they want to win against England. Parking the bus after a goal might not be an option for them and they will need a comfortable lead least England snatch a win from under their feet.

If England can find their attacking form and Pickford maintains his goalkeeping display England will push through. Pickford will need a bit more help from his back line though to make sure he isn’t forced to make too many crucial saves.

Our pick: England

England is most likely to progress, but they need to convert their opportunities better and the defense needs to step up…

There are more options for scoring in this game, including defense errors, so it is likely to finish in regulation. If the stars align, a relatively high scoring game is a possibility too.

At the moment the over/under is at two goals and we believe that the over is a good bet.

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