MOSCOW (AP) — A look at what’s coming up at the World Cup:
Roberto Martinez is determined to end a streak of one kind for World Cup coaches. All 20 previous World Cup-winning coaches were born in the nation they led to the title. Martinez, a Spaniard, is two wins away from guiding Belgium to its first title. First, his team needs to get past France on Tuesday to earn a spot in the final for the first time.
English coach George Raynor took Sweden to the 1958 final, but lost to Brazil. Ernst Happel of Austria led the Netherlands to the 1978 final, where it lost in extra time to Argentina. Martinez hopes to succeed where they failed by employing a two-year process to ensure “this is a team, this is not a group of individuals.”
France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris is facing a Belgian team that has scored a tournament-leading 14 goals in five matches when they meet in the semifinals in St. Petersburg.
The 31-year-old Lloris describes the Belgium lineup as “quite simply, the most complete side in the tournament, in all aspects of the game.”
Apart from the experience of 103 international appearances, Lloris has a few other things going his way when he’s trying to stop them — including the fact he’s faced many of the Belgians already while playing for Tottenham in the Premier League.
“We know them well. For my part I have three Tottenham teammates,” Lloris said. “There will be a lot of great players on the pitch.
“To beat them, we’ll have to make our own luck … we’ll have to be ready to suffer. But we will be, because there’s a great spirit in this side.”
Belgium must cope without defender Thomas Meunier, whose runs down the flank are a key part of Belgium’s attack.
Meunier is suspended after tripping Brazil star Neymar and earning a second yellow card of the tournament. In Meunier’sabsence, Martinez may scrap his 3-5-2 formation with wingbacks, and instead switch to a back four in a more compactdefense.
Star forward Eden Hazard is known for his attacking prowess, but he also is an outlet for Belgium’s defense. Hazard runs atpace and cuts inside. Because of his quick feet, change of direction and exquisite close control, he is difficult to tackle andthis often draws a foul.
While Giroud has yet to score at this World Cup, his ability to hold the ball up suits France’s system and allows Mbappe tomake runs down the right flank. It also gives Antoine Griezmann space to roam.
“I try to create gaps for my teammates,” Giroud said. “It’s my unselfish side.”
He needs one goal to move ahead of France great Zinedine Zidane. They are tied on fourth overall with 31.
Griezmann has scored two penalty kicks and set up Raphael Varane’s headed goal against Uruguay. But he has not shown theform he did when he led France in scoring en route to the Euro 2016 final, when Les Bleus lost to Portugal.
Belgium struggled against Japan when defending quick and mobile players.
WITH THE WHISTLE
Andres Cunha of Uruguay was assigned to referee the match after working France’s opening 2-1 win over Australia andSpain’s 1-0 victory over Iran in the group stage. He awarded France a penalty kick after a video review of a tackle from behindby Joshua Risdon on Antoine Griezmann, who converted for a 1-0 lead. Cunha disallowed a goal by Iran’s Saeid Ezatolahi afteran assistant referee and the video assistant signaled the player was offside.
Set pieces have been the main source of goals at the tournament in Russia — 42 percent, no less — and England has been the master of that department on its run to Wedneday’s semifinal match against Croatia.
Eight of England’s 11 goals so far have come via free kicks, corners or penalties, which is four more than any other team and the most since Portugal also scored eight set-piece goals at the World Cup in 1966.
This hasn’t come about by fluke. Meticulous preparation — including a trip to the United States to take in an NBA game — the selection of specific players with strong dead-ball delivery, and the defensive nature of high-pressure tournament soccer has led to a point where set pieces could yet lead England to a second World Cup title.
“Obviously we work on them in attack and defense, and they are vitally important for us,” said Ashley Young, one of England’s set-piece specialists. “They have worked in our favor and we’ll carry on working on them.”
A decade ago, England had one of the best set-piece takers in soccer in David Beckham, whose precision and ability to curl the ball in from the wing was an important weapon at major tournaments.
Forget bending them like Beckham. In England’s class of 2018, free kicks, corners and wide crosses are mostly provided by England’s wing backs, Young and Kieran Trippier, and they are proving tough to defend.
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