France v Belgium
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ST PETERSBURG • Roberto Martinez's stroke of tactical genius may have been key to his Belgium side beating powerhouses Brazil, but France coach Didier Deschamps feels Les Bleus are ready for anything that comes their way.
The 49-year-old was speaking at a press conference ahead of today's World Cup semi-final in St Petersburg, where France are the favourites, with an impressive mix of youth and experience allied to tournament nous after they reached the Euro 2016 final.
"My team will be ready for different scenarios, different formations. This Belgium team didn't get here by chance, they played a great game against Brazil with a very specific game plan. Will they do something similar against us? Well, probably," said Deschamps.
"When they get the ball, this Belgium team are really able to perform. They attack very well and very fast. I have made sure my players are prepared for any scenario, with different formations at the beginning of the match or during the match if it changes.
"We will do everything to seize any opportunity to reach the final of the World Cup."
Deschamps will have no reason to fear as France are also a team propelled by great pace.
Both teams boast a rich assembly of match-winning attacking players - Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku for Belgium, and Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe for the French - but they have also shown character that adds strength to their credentials as the current tournament favourites.
Belgium came from two goals down in their last-16 tie against Japan to emerge 3-2 winners, while France swept past Argentina 4-3, after also finding themselves trailing in the second half.
The predominant weapon for both teams is their speed going forward, catapulting players with instinctive talent into positions from where their genius can prove lethal.
France centre-back Raphael Varane has warned his team to be wary of Belgium captain Hazard and Lukaku in particular.
"Hazard is a player with great talent, with much pace and big quality. There are no miracle solutions against him. You have to leave him little space," he told reporters.
"Lukaku can make it difficult for any team because of his physique."
Against Japan, Belgium were harried and corralled by their opponents' pressing and, in response, coach Martinez made clever changes for the quarter-final against Brazil, with Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli coming in.
Chadli played higher up the middle with Lukaku switched to the right and de Bruyne employed as a decoy centre-forward, which worked perfectly for them.
There will be further adjustments from Martinez following the suspension of full-back Thomas Meunier, but he believes their team spirit and togetherness can ensure they continue their extraordinary journey in Russia.
"The players have been working together extraordinarily well for many years, and they deserve to be exactly where they are today," Martinez told ESPN.
"I feel that the most important aspect we worked on was the notion of being a team. Individual skills and talent are important but, in these tournaments, it's absolutely necessary to play as a team.
"It's a trip into the unknown and that's why we need our team spirit more than ever against France."
Martinez also sees strong similarities between Belgium and France, especially when it comes to the wealth of individual talent in their attacking ranks.
However, the Spaniard insisted that he would not be focused solely on one player, with teenage star Mbappe the centre of media attention.
"We will need to anticipate (Mbappe) and be well-positioned. But we are not going to forget the others since France has a very complete attacking pattern," he said.
"This group of players needs to play without fear. It's like a voyage to the moon, we need to face it full of illusions."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE