ST PETERSBURG - Roberto Martinez’s swashbuckling Belgium side head into Tuesday’s semi-final with familiar foes France as the World Cup’s leading scorers, but their old rivals have evolved as the tournament has progressed and will also be full of confidence. Belgium have scored 14 goals in five matches and were hugely impressive in their 2-1 quarter-final victory over Brazil, with Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne combining to devastating effect to oust the five-times world champions.

In contrast, France sleep-walked through the group stages, eking out wins over Australia and Peru before a stultifying 0-0 draw with Denmark. Their early struggles had ‘Les Bleus’ being written off in some quarters, but all that changed when they faced Argentina in the last 16 in what must be a leading contender for the most exciting match of the tournament.

Didier Deschamps tweaked his formation, effectively freeing up Kylian Mbappe on the right to run at the Argentine defence, and what followed was a wonderful display of attacking football that France won 4-3. The victory boosted France’s morale, and they followed it up with a workman-like 2-0 win over Uruguay that was impressive because of how well they managed to control the game against tricky opponents.

Belgium faced a heart-stopping moment of uncertainty in the first knockout round against Japan, when Martinez’s decision to rest players in their final group match against England almost backfired spectacularly. Belgium’s returning first team players made a sluggish start against the Samurai Blue and suddenly found themselves trailing by two goals with time ebbing away.

Stung into action, Martinez sent on Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli in the 65th minute, and both were heavily involved as Belgium pulled off a late comeback, with Chadli securing victory with practically the last kick of the game. Against Brazil in the quarters, Martinez showed tactical adventure, as he pushed target man Lukaku to the wing to allow De Bruyne to operate as a ‘false nine’. The strategy worked, and De Bruyne scored his first goal in Russia.

Tuesday’s clash in St Petersburg has all the makings of a classic, with fans and viewers likely to be treated to the sight of two wonderfully attacking teams going toe-to-toe. “It’s a super exciting game with great players on both sides,” France defender Benjamin Pavard said. “It’s going to be a man’s match and we will have to step up.”

France, world champions in 1998, are slight favourites to go through according to most bookmakers, but Belgium tend to step up their game against these particular European rivals, if history is anything to go by. Of the 73 meetings between the teams, Belgium have won 30 and France 24, with 19 draws between them, although if Belgium are to reach their first World Cup final they will have to do so by beating France at the tournament for the first time.

France came through their quarter-final unscathed, and Deschamps has his entire squad to choose from, while Belgium are only slightly worse off. Full back Thomas Meunier is suspended after picking up a second yellow card of the tournament against Brazil, with Martinez likely to bring in Yannick Carrasco in his place.

While 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. 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.

World Cup semi-final history

BELGIUM

*Belgium’s only previous semi-final appearance came at the 1986 finals, where Diego Maradona turned on the second half magic and ensured for Argentina a place in the final with both goals in a 2-0 victory.

*In that tournament, Belgium squeezed through the first round in third place in their group after losing to hosts Mexico, before needing extra time to beat the Soviet Union in the last 16 and penalties to overcome Spain in the quarter-finals.

*Defender Eric Gerets rated the class of 2018 as more talented footballers than his 1986 team mates but said he did not believe they had the same fighting spirit until he saw their 2-1 win over Brazil in Friday’s quarter-final.

*After losing in the 1986 semi-final, Belgium faced France in Puebla for the bronze medal in the third place playoff and were beaten 4-2 after extra time despite taking an early lead.

*Belgium made it to the last eight at the last World Cup in Brazil but their hopes of a semi-final spot were snuffed out by one early Gonzalo Higuain goal for Argentina.

*There are 15 players from the 2014 Belgian squad who have returned for the tournament in Russia, having picked up considerable experience in the meantime.

FRANCE

*Just Fontaine’s record of 13 goals in a single tournament from the 1958 finals still stands as he helped propel the French to their first-ever semi-final, where they lost 5-2 to Brazil in Stockholm, with teenager Pele scoring a hat-trick.

*France lost on post-match penalties to West Germany in Seville in the 1982 semi-final, best remembered for an unpunished kung-fu style challenge by goalkeeper Harold Schumacher on France’s Patrick Battison that saw the Frenchman stretchered off 10 minutes after coming on as a substitute with a cracked vertebra and damaged teeth.

*Four years later in Mexico, France were again semi-finalists but once more thwarted by the Germans, losing 2-0 in Guadalajara.

*France won the World Cup when they hosted the 1998 finals, beating Croatia in the semi-final 2-1 with both goals from defender Lilian Thuram, but they had big defender Laurent Blanc sent off, meaning he missed the final win over Brazil.

*Current coach Didier Deschamps captained France that year as they lifted the trophy for the first time. He is now seeking to return to the final as he chases the double of winning the World Cup as both a player and a coach.

*France’s fifth semi-final appearance came in 2006, when Zinedine Zidane’s penalty was enough to beat Portugal 1-0.

Belgium vs France

Match starts at 11:00 PM

Venue: St Petersberg Stadium

Win chances

Head to head

30     Goals   160

Belgium won

Coach:

Roberto Martinez

Captain:

Eden Hazard

Fifa Rank:

3

Best Finish:

4th place 1986

Winners Group G

W Panama 3-0

W Tunisia 5-2

W England 1-0

W Japan 3-2

W Brazil 2-1

73

Matches

Draw: 19

latest Meetings

June 7, 2015 France 3-4 Belgium

Aug 14, 2013 France 0-0 Belgium

Road to Semi-final

Match 1

Match 2

Match 3

Last 16

QF

W Australia 2-1

W Peru 1-0

D Denmark 0-0

W Argentina 4-3

W Uruguay 2-0

24  127  Goals

France won

Coach:

Didier Deschamps

Captain:

Hugo Lloris

Fifa Rank:

7

Best Finish:

Champion 1998

Winner Group C

Tournament Statistics

14 Goals Scored 9

5 Goals conceded 4

85 Total Shots 56

33 Shots on Target 19

2211 Passes Completed 2037

30 Corners 15

53% Possession 51%