World Cup favourites France are targeting the final in Russia two decades after their 1998 triumph with one of their greatest players, Thierry Henry, plotting their downfall from the dugout of opponents Belgium.
The European neighbours meet in Tuesday’s first semi-final in Saint Petersburg for the right to play England or Croatia in Sunday’s showpiece in Moscow.
Former Arsenal and Barcelona forward Henry, who was part of the squad that won the World Cup on home soil 20 years ago, is now alongside Belgium coach Roberto Martinez and eyeing the chinks in France’s armour.
“It will be bizarre to have him up against us,” said France striker Olivier Giroud. “He is a living legend of French football.
“He has given so much to the France team and we have got a lot of respect for what he has done. But we’re not thinking about it too much, we’re going to be focused on the pitch and our game.”
A slick Belgium side boasting the talents of Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku are the only team to have won all their matches in Russia and are the top scorers, with 14 goals.
Confidence is sky-high after they ousted Neymar’s Brazil in the quarter-finals but they will come up against formidable opponents in France as they try to reach a first ever World Cup final.
Didier Deschamps’ side, with Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe up front, struggled for goals in their group matches but have now hit their stride, dominating Uruguay after beating Argentina.
France will start the semi-final in Saint Petersburg as favourites, with an impressive mix of youth and experience allied to tournament nous after they reached the Euro 2016 final.
With Hugo Lloris impressing in goal and a solid midfield of Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, the one potential weakness for France could be their inexperienced defence.
Belgium’s Thomas Meunier will miss the game after picking up a second yellow card but France will be buoyed by the return of defensive midfielder Blaise Matuidi, after sitting out a suspension of his own.