TODAY'S PAPER

World Cup semifinals: Unlikely foursome vying for championship in Russia

Paul Pogba, left, and France will face Belgium on Tuesday, with the winner advancing to the final. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images / FRANCK FIFE

The World Cup semifinals are set and one of the following four countries will lift the trophy. Some seek to end a decades-long drought, others aim to win for the first time ever.

Two of the hottest teams in the tournament — France and England — take on two teams that have survived every challenge thrown their way in Belgium and Croatia.

Here’s what to watch for on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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France vs. Belgium

France has a lot of talent as it pursues its first World Cup trophy since 1998, especially in the attack led by Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe. However, Les Bleus showed their defensive discipline in their quarterfinals win over Uruguay. They’ve yet to lose throughout the entire tournament, with the only blemish on their record coming in a scoreless draw to Denmark in the group stage.

As good as France has been, Belgium’s “Golden Generation” has faced and beat adversity twice to get this far. The Red Devils stunned Japan with a 94th minute winner in the Round of 16 — rallying from a 2-0 deficit — and stayed sharp to send home tournament favorite Brazil on Friday. If the Belgians can beat France on Tuesday, they should be favored in the final.

England vs. Croatia

For baseball fans who don’t follow soccer, think of this England team as the 2016 Chicago Cubs that finally won the World Series. The Three Lions could be that “lovable loser” team that finally wins it all. They’ve already erased the ghosts of World Cup past by beating Colombia on penalties in the Round of 16 — a knockout round first for them. They were solid in their quarterfinal win over Sweden to get to this point and look the part of a country ready to lift their first trophy since 1966.

Croatia is the lone Cinderella left in the tournament after ousting both Denmark and host Russia in penalties in consecutive matches. The Blazers may be the most fatigued of the World Cup’s final four — playing over 120 minutes twice in the last six days — but they’ve shown the most character of anyone in the tournament. Croatia winning it all is still a long shot, but an upset over England isn’t too crazy a thought.