France ready for Belgium's tactical surprises, says coach
Belgium are the tournament’s top scorers, and Roberto Martinez sprang a surprise by changing his system in the quarter-final against Brazil.
ST PETERSBURG - France coach Didier Deschamps is confident he has prepared his players for any tactical surprises his opposite number Roberto Martinez might spring when they face Belgium in the World Cup semi-finals in St Petersburg on Tuesday.
Belgium are the tournament’s top scorers, and Martinez sprang a surprise by changing his system in the quarter-final against Brazil, moving target man Romelu Lukaku out wide so Kevin de Bruyne could operate as a “false nine”.
The tweaks worked a treat as Belgium neutralised Brazil’s midfield while allowing Lukaku and Eden Hazard to get beyond their fullbacks.
De Bruyne profited from spaces opening up in the middle as Brazil’s centre-backs were forced to deal with the threat out wide, and he scored his first goal of the tournament in the 2-1 victory.
With Thomas Meunier suspended for the semi-final, Martinez is sure to make at least one change.
“Belgium didn’t arrive here by chance. They played a great game against Brazil with a specific game plan,” the 49-year-old Deschamps told a news conference on Monday. “Will they do something similar for us? Probably.
“Their team is geared forward. They keep that particular quality, but against Brazil, Martinez intensified the midfield... and the Brazilians couldn’t use those corridors.
“They attack very fast. So I’ve made sure that my players are prepared for any scenarios from the beginning of the match and during the match as well if it changes.”
Deschamps added that Martinez had benefited from the strong foundation he inherited from Marc Wilmots, who was sacked after Belgium lost to Wales in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals.
“I don’t want to offend Martinez but he, of course, benefited from Wilmots’ work, despite the fact that Wales eliminate the team,” Deschamps said.
“He changed things a bit, put his own stamp on the team, but he had great potential with this group of players. I don’t know if he’s going to do it, but I congratulate him on being in a semi-final even though he’s going to face us.”
Forward Kylian Mbappe, one of France’s best players in Russia, was not at the first 15 minutes of training open to the media, but Deschamps said he had a full squad to choose from.
“Nobody is out, even though we rested four players today. That was a precautionary measure,” the coach added.
The teams have met 73 times before with Belgium winning on 30 occasions, France 24, and 19 matches drawn.
They last met in a friendly in 2015 and a number of Belgian and French players are teammates at club level.
Hazard and keeper Thibaut Courtois line up opposite Chelsea teammates Ngolo Kante and Olivier Giroud while Paul Pogba faces Manchester United colleagues Marouane Fellaini and Lukaku.
“We know them and they know us,” Deschamps said. “It’s peculiar because there are many players on my team who will be facing their own club teammates. It’s an advantage on both sides, but we will seize every opportunity to reach the final.”