Thomas Vermaelen picked out Kylian Mbappe as the major threat to Belgium’s chances of making their first appearance at a World Cup final, saying the 19-year-old forward can “decide every match in a flash”.
Mbappe has scored three goals in France’s unbeaten run to the semi-finals, grabbing headlines with his brace and match-winning performance against Argentina in the round of 16.
Vermaelen admitted his Belgium team-mates will have a number of the world’s best players to contend with when they face Les Bleus in St Petersburg on Tuesday, but feels Mbappe is their stand-out talent.
“For me Kylian Mbappe is the best player in the French selection,” Vermaelen told reporters. “He is extremely fast and can decide every match in a flash.
Rendez-vous en demi-finale pic.twitter.com/vnUFHORW7u
— Kylian Mbappé (@KMbappe) July 6, 2018
“But also players like [Ousmane] Dembele, [Olivier] Giroud or [N’Golo] Kante have their specific, strong qualities.
“It’s just a very strong team, but for me Mbappe is the best.”
Vermaelen has started just one of Belgium’s five World Cup matches so far after only recovering from a hamstring injury just in time to travel to Russia with Roberto Martinez’s squad.
The Barcelona defender came on as a second-half substitute in Belgium’s 2-1 quarter-final victory over Brazil – a match he believes has given the team more belief that lifting the trophy is possible.
“Now we want to continue until the end,” he said. “If we do not make it to the final, or do not become world champions, that would also be a disappointment.
“A few hours after [the Brazil game] the focus was already on the game against France. Because our ambition is winning that final.
“France has always been one of the favourites to win the tournament,” he added.
“Maybe it will be a more difficult match than against Brazil.”
Brazil need to start thinking about Qatar 2022 after their World Cup exit at the hands of Belgium, according to 2002 winner Rivaldo.
A Fernandinho own goal and a superb strike from Kevin De Bruyne set up a 2-1 win for Belgium, with Renato Augusto’s headed reply proving a mere consolation.
Tite has not yet indicated whether or not he would like to stay in charge of the Selecao, although Ronaldo wants the coach to remain in his post.
And in a social media post, Rivaldo said Brazil have to start planning for the future immediately.
“First of all, I would like to congratulate Belgium’s national team for their victory and their qualification,” Rivaldo wrote on Instagram.
“The World Cup is just like that, especially in the quarter-finals – that is when the tournament really begins.
“The World Cup is different from Copa America, qualifiers or friendlies. There is no room for mistakes.
“It’s part of football! Of 32 teams, only one wins and this time it was not Brazil.
“I know very well how the players and all Brazilian fans are feeling, it’s a very sad moment, but life has to go on and for sure they will get over it and they will come back stronger.
“Now it’s time to raise your head and think about 2022 in Qatar.”
Not every journey has the end we desire. But every journey brings experience. Let’s look forward now, Brazil. // Nem toda jornada tem o fim que desejamos. Mas toda jornada nos traz experiência. Vamos olhar para frente agora, Brasil.
— Pelé (@Pele) July 7, 2018
Brazil icon Pele has also told the national team to concentrate on the future after their Russia 2018 disappointment.
“Not every journey has the end we desire,” Pele wrote on Twitter.
“But every journey brings experience. Let’s look forward now, Brazil.”
Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois insists his highly publicised recent comments on Jordan Pickford were not meant to belittle England’s number one.
Pickford defended his ability after letting in an Adnan Januzaj winner when the two nations met in their final Group G clash last week.
Courtois raised his Everton counterpart’s relatively small stature as a factor in his failure to make the save, suggesting he was “too busy throwing his legs in the air”.
But, speaking in the aftermath of Belgium’s 2-1 quarter-final upset of Brazil on Friday, Courtois was at pains to praise his fellow gloveman.
“This thing about Jordan Pickford, I want to make it clear, I never mocked his height,” Courtois told the BBC.
“I would never mock the height of a goalkeeper.
“He is a great goalkeeper and he has proved that this year. I want to make that clear.”
Pickford went on to make a vital penalty save in England’s shoot-out victory over Colombia in the last 16, while Courtois was instrumental in seeing off Brazil.
The pair could yet meet again in the World Cup final with England to face Sweden on Saturday for the chance to reach the final four.
— Belgian Red Devils (@BelRedDevils) July 6, 2018
Brazil defender Danilo has been ruled out for the rest of the World Cup due to an ankle injury.
The Manchester City full-back featured just once for Tite’s men in Russia, playing in his team’s draw with Switzerland in their opening game.
But a left ankle injury means Danilo, 26, will miss the rest of the tournament, the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) confirmed late on Thursday.
“Danilo suffered a left ankle injury and will not have time to recover until the end of the cup,” the CBF said in a statement.
“In conversation with the commission, he will remain with the team in Russia. We cheer for your recovery.”
Brazil are favourites to win the World Cup ahead of their quarter-final against Belgium in Kazan on Friday.
Andreas Granqvist vowed that Sweden will not alter the way they play heading into their World Cup quarter-final with England.
Janne Andersson’s side have had less possession than their opponents in three out of their four matches at the World Cup so far, relying on their strong defensive structure to keep teams at bay.
That tactic has worked well, and if not for Toni Kroos’ sublime free-kick in the last minute of the Group F clash with Germany, Sweden would have an undefeated record in Russia.
And Granqvist, who has scored twice from the penalty spot, claims Sweden have no plans to change how they set up when it comes to facing England in Samara on Saturday.
“Normally the other teams have better players on paper. We let them have the ball in the places we want them to have the ball,” Sweden’s captain, who will return to Helsingborgs IF at the end of his World Cup campaign, told reporters.
2 – Sweden have won back-to-back World Cup matches for the first time since 1958, when they won the quarter-final and semi-final on their way to the final as host nation that year. Rising. #SWESUI #SWE #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/tAWajEqBDE
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) 3 July 2018
“If you look at the games we have played, of course the opponents have more ball possession, but we have created more chances.
“This is how we play, this is what we need to do. This is our strength and we need to show our quality against other strong teams.
“This is the way for us to have success and we’re going to continue this way.”