With Neymar owning the Tournament Villain award in 2018 it’s been almost overlooked that the bad boy of the two previous World Cups seems to have grown up. Not only has Luis Suarez been well behaved, he’s been selfless in his play, and his partnership with Cavani is the best in the competition.
The problem for Uruguay, however, is that Cavani is a doubtful starter for the weekend and, as we saw with Colombia, when a star player is missing from a side the rest of them can get a bit distracted.
France have been harder to get a reading on. For 15 minutes against Argentina they were sublime, and produced the Team Goal of the Tournament which they held for 48 hours. Outside of that they haven’t done a lot else.
On paper they do seem to have more depth across the park. Mbappe will be even more of a marked man now, but that will just open up spaces elsewhere.
Brazil v Belgium
There has been a temptation for Brazil sentimentalists to say you should not judge the team on Neymar. It is really hard to blame that; if his team mates and management had any integrity they would have the guts to tell the play-acting, alleged tax evading pony to pull his head in.
This is the most unlovable Brazil team of all time.
Belgium (and have you heard they’ve got a Golden Generation?) have been as predictably frustrating as a clichéd Dutch side.
Like most of the sides left in the completion they’re hard to judge too. Impressive in Group play, with the added confidence of learning their B side is better than England’s B side they went into their match against Japan as clear favourites.
With 25 minutes to go they were 2 down against Japan, and clearly the egos were out.
But not so; they brought their donkeys on and, unlike Spain they showed they had a plan B. Their three goals were a wonder trifecta of a flaky header and goals from Fellaini and Naser bloody Chadli.
And that final goal, helped by a supreme, selfless, dummy from Lukaku showed that this, finally, is a team.
That is the best team goal of the tournament.
England v Sweden
This was meant to be England v Germany.
With all the excitement of something coming home it’s been overlooked that Sweden has made the semi-final stage of this tournament more recently than England.
The other narrative that doesn’t quite stack up is that Sweden is the set piece team in this match. So far England’s goals have come from 3 penalties, 4 goals from corners (3 off the head and 1 toe-poke) and an unintentional Kane back-heel. Other than that they have scored one goal from open play. They are also the only side remaining not to have kept a clean sheet.
But can they win two penalty shoot-outs in a row?
Russia v Croatia
Two more sides hard to get a reading on.
The hosts went into this competition as the lowest ranked side, won their first two games against weak opposition easily, got completely rolled by Uruguay before giving a performance in parking the bus that the 2004 Greeks would have been proud of.
The Croats were arguably the form team of group play before playing like possums in the headlights against Denmark. They have the best couple of midfielders in the competition yet Ratacic in particular seemed to play large parts of the match in central defence. Surely they can’t be that insipid again.
Russia’s survival until this stage has been good for the tournament, but sides like that shouldn’t really be in a semi-final.