Enzo Scifo and Antoine Griezmann head past and present match-ups for France v Belgium

We compare how the current France and Belgium sides match up to their compatriots who last reached the World Cup semi-finals

Matt Monaghan 2018/07/09

The semi-finalists at World Cup 2018 feel the hand of history.

For all the global superstars France churn out with enviable frequency, it is 12 years since they made it this far. The vast majority of Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’, who will feature on Tuesday against Les Bleus at Saint Petersburg Stadium, weren’t even born when 1986’s vintage were downed by a Diego Maradona-inspired Argentina.

Here, we compare how the current competitors match up to their compatriots who last reached the World Cup semi-finals:


Goalkeeper: A cigarette-smoking, eccentric free spirit and 1998 World Cup winner offers a veritable contrast to the man currently between the sticks for Les Bleus.

Fabian Barthez boasted remarkable athleticism despite his small stature for a goalkeeper, but was on the decline by the time 2006 came around. The then 34-year-old kept four clean sheets in Germany, though he critically could not repel any of Italy’s penalties in the final.

Hugo Lloris showed atypical frailty last season for France and Tottenham. Yet the Les Bleus skipper reinforced his quality with the save of the tournament from Uruguay full-back Martin Caceres’ header in the quarter-finals.

2006 rating: 6/10

2018 rating: 8/10

Defence: In 2006, France boasted one of the planet’s best rearguards.

Bayern Munich’s ultra-reliable Willy Sagnol had usurped Lilian Thuram at right-back, with the legendary 1998 winner moving inside. Fellow centre-back William Gallas was at the height of his powers and an emerging Eric Abidal was a year away from moving to Barcelona.

Contemporary Barca centre-back Samuel Umtiti and Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane have played a key role from centre-back in securing three clean sheets from five matches in Russia.

At full-back, issues emerge. Benjamin Pavard is shoehorned in on the right and Lucas Hernandez erratic on the left.

2006 rating: 9/10

2018 rating: 7/10

Midfield: One of football’s great figures experienced an iconic – and incendiary – send-off in Germany.

Madrid playmaker Zinedine Zidane turned back the clock to eliminate holders Brazil in the quarter-finals, chipped in a penalty during the final versus Italy and then head-butted Marco Materazzi for a violent last act on a football pitch. Patrick Vieira and Claude Makelele provided unmatched back up.

Head coach Didier Deschamps appears to have finally pulled off a balancing act in the middle of the park. Chelsea defensive midfielder N’Golo Kante is heir apparent to Makelele.

Manchester United’s Paul Pogba has blossomed thanks to the utilisation of a midfield marker, usually Blaise Matuidi. Pogba’s surges from deep and superb passing range are key facets.

2006 rating: 8/10

2018 rating: 8/10

Attack: Deschamps has at his disposal an attack of rare depth and quality. Whether he gets the optimum out of them is up for debate.

Antoine Griezmann has three goals, but only performed anywhere near his best against Uruguay. Centre forward Olivier Giroud has not registered an attempt on target, although the head coach cherishes his hold-up play.

Teenager Kylian Mbappe put in a revelatory display against Argentina and has been a consistent outlet.

In 2006, Thierry Henry was one of the sport’s most-feared strikers at Arsenal and grew into the tournament with three goals. Wingers Florent Malouda and Franck Ribery were on the way to establishing themselves in the international arena.

2006 rating: 8/10

2018 rating: 7/10


2006 rating: 31/40

2018 rating: 30/40


Goalkeeper: A maverick figure acted as last line of defence for Belgium at Mexico ’86.

Bayern Munich’s Jean-Marie Pfaff is still revered for his achievements in that tournament, ending Spain’s ambitions during a last-eight penalty shootout. His tremendous spring and vibrant personality earned him a spot in the FIFA 100 list of the greatest living players in 2004.

Current incumbent Thibaut Courtois is built of different stuff. The confident 26-year-old stands half-a-foot taller and this elongated frame is key to his goalkeeping.

Against Brazil in the quarter-finals, Courtois followed in Pfaff’s footsteps. The Chelsea player made nine saves and restricted the pre-tournament favourites to just one goal.

1986 rating: 8/10

2018 rating: 8/10

Defence: Sound foundations did not underpin Belgium’s 1986 achievements.

The likes of Eric Gerets (Lion of Flanders) and Michel Renquin were part of a porous backline that conceded 15 times in seven matches, along the way to finishing fourth. In the second round alone, Soviet Union’s Igor Belanov notched a hat-trick.

A mixed view can be taken of this year’s side. Roberto Martinez’s 3-4-2-1 formation has left huge spaces to be exploited out wide, but Paris Saint-Germain right wing-back Thomas Meunier has come up with vital assists.

Even a return to a four-man defence against Brazil last time out still led to many chances being ceded. But defenders of real quality are possessed in Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Vincent Kompany.

1986 rating: 5/10

2018 rating: 7/10

Midfield: Pillars of strength are found in Belgium’s engine room.

Axel Witsel and Marouane Fellaini grew up together at Standard Liege, before heading their separate ways.

Fellaini has been decisive in the knockouts. He came off the bench to head Belgium level in the comeback win against Japan and then carried out an adroit nullifying job on Brazil’s Neymar.

The extraordinary Jan Ceulemans was the heartbeat of the 1986 side, his displays putting him in the team of the tournament. An emerging Enzo Scifo, who at 20-years old would go on to win the tournament’s Best Young Player Award, provided able support.

1986 rating: 8/10

2018 rating: 7/10

Attack: It doesn’t get much better than Belgium’s existing attack.

Pushed forward from centre midfield versus Brazil, Manchester City’s incomparable Kevin De Bruyne struck the decisive second. Fellow supreme playmaker Eden Hazard has two assists and goals in Russia.

Up top, United’s Romelu Lukaku is in a fight with England’s Harry Kane for the Golden Boot. His storming assists versus Brazil showed a different aspect of his game.

Less glitter surrounded Belgium’s 1986 attack, but there was no lack of quality. Franky Vercauteren on the left wing was nicknamed ‘The Little Prince’ and striker Nico Claesen struck three times.

1986 rating: 7/10

2018 rating: 9/10


1986 rating: 28/40

2018 rating: 31/40

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