the semi-finals


I'm within one point of first place in the prediction contest I entered. I am still hopeless at picking goal scorers, though, so this time, along with my game predictions, I'll just note a few players who have had good World Cups so far.

France-Belgium.  I think this will be close enough to go 120 minutes, with France winning before it goes to PKs. Kylian Mbappé has been France's best ... he's only had one poor match, against Denmark, and he only came on for 15 minutes or so at the end of that snoozer. He was brilliant against Argentina, and solid against Uruguay. Meanwhile, a case can be made that Eden Hazard has been the best player in Russia. Four games, all excellent at the least, two goals, two assists. And he's not alone ... Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku have been great, as well. In short, if Belgium were to win, I wouldn't exactly be shocked. These two last met in a World Cup in 1986, one of those wild third-place games that are both pointless and, usually, exciting with lots of goals. Sure enough, there were six goals, scored by six different players, France coming out on top, 4-2. The '86 World Cup was the last ride for the great French teams led by Michel Platini. They won the 1984 Euros, and Platini was amazing in that competition.

Croatia-England. I'm predicting England in the regulation 90. Croatia has some really good ones ... Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic. But they've gone to penalties twice in a row, and that's a lot of minutes. Meanwhile, England has Harry Kane, who has scored more goals than anyone else at the tournament. Kieran Trippier has been outstanding, and we can't forget Harry Maguire, who has a goal and an assist from his centerback spot. These teams last met in qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup, with England winning both matches by a combined score of 9-2.