The most open World Cup in recent memory has led to an unusual last four in Russia. There is no outstanding favourite among the semi-finalists, with any of the four nations left capable of lifting the World Cup next Monday (NZT)

Belgium vs France

Why Belgium can win:

Simply, it's now or never for the Red Devils. By the time of the next World Cup, many of the current side will be in their early to mid thirties and past their footballing peak. For a small nation like Belgium, a group of players this talented only comes above once every few decades. They've worn the golden generation tag as a burden in their last two major tournaments, but that's been less apparent in Russia. Their miraculous comeback against Japan gave their campaign serious momentum, while the historic win over Brazil has sent their belief through the roof. They are a united, settled squad with their big players coming into top form.

Why they won't: They still look fragile at the back, which can be costly as the stakes rise.


Why France can win: The Gallic side have made almost serene progress to the last four, despite facing the twin dangers of Argentina and Uruguay. They are defensively the best team left, with fabulous solidity provided by the centre back pairing of Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane, while N'Golo Kante is the best defensive midfielder in the game. They don't lack weapons going forward either, and can play a variety of systems.

Why they won't: Apart from a few minutes against Argentina when they trailed 1-2, France have yet to face real pressure in this tournament. Questions remain over their ability to handle it, especially with a young squad and lack of natural leaders. Haven't beaten Belgium since 2004.

First semi final prediction: Belgium to edge France, possibly after extra time.

England vs Croatia

Why England can win:

If you read enough of the English press, simply because it's destiny. But there is a lot to like. They are pace and skill in the final third, a decent spine and a goalkeeper confident and in form. They're well organised, fit and relatively fresh, having had the least onerous run to the semifinal. Perhaps most importantly, they are the most united England team since at least 1996.

Why they won't: Compared to the other three teams, they lack star quality and x-factor, especially in midfield. They've struggled to score from open play, and look vulnerable at the back, especially with the tendency of the back three to over play. And most importantly, they've yet to face genuine adversity in this event. When they did, in the last 40 minutes against Colombia, they didn't have many answers.

Why Croatia can win: Have class players to compare with any roster, especially the twin talents of Luaka Modric and Ivan Rakitic in midfield. Have overcome a series of difficult opponents without often being at their best, often a telling quality. And showed tremendous courage against Russia, especially in their response after the host nations 116th-minute equaliser.

Why they won't: After being involved in a series of emotional and dramatic games, including two penalty shoot outs, there is a danger they are mentally and physically exhausted. Can they lift for their semifinal, especially with almost all of the crowd in Moscow behind the "Three Lions".


Second semi-final prediction: England, just, by a single goal.