The FIFA World Cup™ semi-finals are almost here and all four nations are deep in preparations for their shot at reaching the final.
France takes on Belgium on Wednesday morning (4am AEST), with England and Croatia doing battle 24 hours later.
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We’ve got all the news for the final four teams in our Russia Watch.
JADED CROATIA A BOOST FOR THREE LIONS
Ashley Young believes England’s relatively comfortable quarter-final win over Sweden could give them the edge in Thursday’s (AEST) semi-final clash against Croatia.
While England made light work of the Swedes, Croatia have had to rely on two penalty-shootout wins in their knockout matches (against Denmark and Russia) to reach the last four.
"I think physically it's demanding, to go 120 minutes then have to fly back to the base as well," Young said at a press conference.
"We felt that and they have done it twice, so it could be major advantage, but we know it'll be tough.
“We need to be mentally prepared to go the distance."
Young added: "There's a lot to play for and I've said all along the team spirit is fantastic.
"We've got a great chance [of winning the World Cup], we've put ourselves in a great position to win it.”
CROATIA’S PLAN FOR ENGLAND NO.1 PICKFORD
Croatia attacker Mario Mandzukic is a fan of England keeper Jordan Pickford but told the shot-stopper to expect a “surprise” in Thursday’s (AEST) semi-final.
Pickford, 24, has played a key role in England’s surge to the last four, making a superb save in the penalty-shootout win over Colombia as well as denying Sweden time and again in the quarters.
But Croatia has shown they have plenty of different threats in attack, with eight different scorers so far in Russia.
And Mandzukic expects his side to show the firepower to get past the England custodian.
"We've seen he's doing really well. [But] we've shown all members of our team are dangerous, so I believe someone will find a way to surprise him,” Mandzukic said.
"He's [Pickford] shown great potential and I'm sure he has a bright future."
"Our biggest pressure was the Denmark game in the last 16. We're enjoying it more at this stage,” the Juventus striker added.
“When the game starts, there is a little bit of pressure, but we're really enjoying being here at the semi-finals."
THE JOKE’S ON MBAPPE
The French players certainly don’t seem to be feeling any pressure ahead of their semi-final against Belgium, even finding time to poke some fun at starlet Kylian Mbappe.
The 19-year-old striker has been one of the stars of the tournament in Russia but his teammates weren’t cutting him any slack on their flight to St Petersburg for the semi.
Defender Benjamin Mendy took full advantage when Mbappe decided to take a nap during the short journey, with teammates Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann joining in.
Mendy’s photo included a caption asking whether the youngster had been watching too much “Razmokets”, which translates to “Rugrats” in English.
DE BRUYNE’S INFLUENCE UNDERVALUED: MARTINEZ
Belgium boss Roberto Martinez has leapt to the defence of playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, who had been criticised for his performances before his man-of-the-match display against Brazil.
De Bruyne scored a fabulous goal as the Red Devils stunned Brazil 2-1 in Kazan to set up Wednesday’s (AEST) semi-final clash against France.
While the Manchester City midfielder was accused of having little impact earlier in the tournament, Martinez feels his performances – in a deeper midfield role – have been crucial to his side’s progress.
"The recognition of Kevin De Bruyne's performances before the Brazil game was a little bit unfair," the Belgium boss told a pre-match media conference in St Petersburg.
"In our set-up he had to be a playmaker, someone who would play a lot deeper, someone who would help getting the ball forward and bring other players into the play.
"Sometimes that's not as attractive to see. For us, he was as important against Panama and Tunisia as he was against Brazil.
"For me, Kevin De Bruyne is the modern playmaker. We are used to seeing these playmakers who stop the game. They take an extra second and allow the game to go into what they want to see.
"Kevin De Bruyne is a modern playmaker in the fact that he goes even quicker than what you can see. His level of execution is exceptional.
"He plays as a number six, as a number eight, as a false nine, he can play out wide. Apart from goalkeeper I could tell you he can perform in any position. That's the quality that he has."
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