Having come so close to sporting immortality, Belgium and England must now recompose themselves to go in search of what will be a high-water mark for at least two generations of fans, or even the greatest ever footballing achievement.
This flowing, expressive, exceptionally talented Belgium side have been touted as potential world-beaters for some time and, with members of their ranks the wrong side of 30, they will arguably be ruing that missed shot at football’s biggest prize more than others. But Saturday presents the chance for greatness, as bronze would see them exceed the heralded side who finished fourth at Mexico 1986.
England’s squad are one of their youngest ever to appear at the finals, so while the sense of the last chance is not there, one of a missed opportunity is. Both starting XIs will be tough to predict, coming at the end of a long seven games for all involved, but third place would be the Three Lions’ biggest achievement since triumphing in 1966. It would also see them equal the recent feat of their women’s team, who earned bronze at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015.
5 FRENCH PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
1)Kylian Mbappe – The 19-year-old has had a sensational tournament so far- taking the competition by storm in his debut, his best performance coming against Argentina where he scored a brace to see off Messi’s side and shattering the dreams of the 5-time World’s Best Footballer. Mbappe is also two-time French League-‘Best Young Players of the Year’ and Ligue 1 Winner with former club Monaco and PSG.
2) Antoine Griezmann – The Atletico Madrid striker made headlines when he shrugged off a move to Barcelona in a personal video and decided to stay at Madrid. He has continuously been Atletico de Madrid’s Most Valuable Player.
3) Paul Pogba – the 120 million rated midfielders has vowed to be France’s main man in the finals-that remains to be seen as Pogba’s performances haven’t been up to his best so far. The Manchester United man comprises of France’s formidable figure in the midfield, looking to play game-winning balls into the final third. He is also a free-kick specialist.
4) N’Golo Kante –The defensive midfielder is one of the best in the world in his position, playing a pivotal role in winning Leicester City a Premier League title and following that season with another Premier League title with Chelsea Football Club. He plays a role in containing opposition’s attacks and winning the ball, keeping possession for his team- a role which overlooked but a very important one to win titles for any team.
5) Hugo Loris- The French goalkeeper is the skipper and is one of the best in the business and has played all of France’s games leading to the Finals. He has made crucial saves in the road to finals and will have to be at his brilliant best to contain the deadly counter attacks of Croatia.