France and Belgium have played each other a lot of the years. With 73 matches having taken place, the Belgians are Les Bleus’ most frequent opponent ever. However, they haven’t had a competitive clash for over 30 years, and even that was only the third/fourth place play-off at the 1986 World Cup. Who will prevail here, and condemn the losers to play everyone’s least favourite glorified friendly on Saturday?
The bookmakers favour France. Didier Deschamps’ side are available at 6/4 to win in 90 minutes with Karamba, or 20/29 to qualify for the final at any point. The same firm price Belgium as 41/20 and 11/10 respectively.
But I like the look of the draw, which Karamba have at 11/5. Two of the last six World Cup semi-finals have gone to extra-time, and another three were only settled by one goal. As it’s safe to assume this won’t end 7-1 like one semi-final infamously did in Brazil four years ago, it seems reasonable to expect a close game.
These nations haven’t been battering teams lately either. Belgium have won their last three matches by the odd goal, and France’s only win by more than one at this World Cup required a horrendous error by the Uruguayan goalkeeper in their last game.
It’s interesting to compare their underlying stats from this tournament. Belgium have had 30 shots more than France, but they have also conceded 30 more to their opponents, so the two nations have identical shot differences. Roberto Martinez’ team may have amassed 5.4 expected goals more than their rivals have, but 5.3 of their tally came in one match against Tunisia.
Across a league season the underlying stats can be very useful in guiding football betting selections, but in cup competitions they can often blur the picture, and that seems to be the case here. The varying standard of teams faced in international football can mislead too; Belgium are unbeaten in 24 matches, but prior to beating Brazil in the last round they had faced very few top teams.
But one fact which may be useful is the general lack of goals in Belgium's matches against other big football nations. The Roberto Martinez era began with a 2-0 loss to Spain, and Belgium have also drawn 1-1 with Netherlands and 0-0 with Portugal.
France may have had a 4-3 win over Argentina, but those seven goals came from just 19 shots, and only England’s 2-0 win over Sweden has seen fewer goal attempts in the 12 knock-out stage matches. Add in the usual lack of goals in World Cup semi-finals, and under 2.5 goals looks the way to go. That’s available at 5/7 with 888sport, and as over 2.5 goals is 13/11, it’s clear that top football bookies are not expecting a wealth of goals here either, something bettors should keep in mind.
However, a lack of score sheet action does not automatically mean one team will draw a blank. In the four knock-out stage games these sides have played, both teams found the net in three of them. Even in the odd game out, Uruguay had the highest expected goal value chance of the match, and were missing their top scorer, so it’s very likely Belgium will have decent opportunities in this game. I think both teams will score here, so bet ‘yes’ in that market at 17/20 with BetBright.
The suggestions I’ve already made here would point towards a 1-1 draw, and a look at the correct score market shows that score line is leading the betting. Football score predictions are very hard to get right, but a flutter on 1-1 is available at 11/2 with Bet365 and is worth considering.
Antoine Griezmann is the favourite to score first, at 9/2 with Ladbrokes, or 6/5 to net at any time. However, his three strikes at this World Cup have consisted of two penalties and a very fortunate goal against Uruguay. It would be wise to wait for confirmed team news, but a better value French option could be Olivier Giroud.
He has yet to score, but has had seven shots and two of the five goals Belgium have conceded at the World Cup have been headers, which are the Chelsea man’s specialty. Giroud is 23/10 with Ladbrokes to score, or 6/1 to break the deadlock.
Romelu Lukaku may be the obvious scorer choice for Belgium, at 9/2 to score first with GentingBet, but (if he plays) Marouane Fellaini could be an interesting choice. He scored twice when these sides last met, in 2015, and is 15/4 with GentingBet to add his name to the scoresheet here.
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