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Betting preview: France - Belgium

Roberto Martinez was lauded for the change of system that enabled Belgium to defeat tournament favourites Brazil in the last round, although most of the evidence implies that he didn't really have a choice. The Red Devils were so lacklustre in his favoured 3-4-3 for the first hour of their 3-2 win over Japan, they simply had to go down a different route.

And it was only right that Martinez rewarded Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli for their contribution against the Samurai Blue. Without them, Belgium would already be sat at home. So the starting XI was mostly obligatory and the new formation was largely a matter of finding the right balance, which Martinez did.

Credit where it's due, the 4-3-1-2 with Romelu Lukaku pulling out to the right, Eden Hazard to the left and Kevin De Bruyne virtually operating as a false nine worked a treat. But for someone so wedded to his philosophies, it must have been an irritation for the Spaniard to accept defeat in the struggle to convince everyone he knew best.

When offered the chance by TV to bask in the glory of masterminding the switch, Martinez was diplomatic and chose to heap credit on his players for their application but, in doing so, also couldn't resist a defence of his old ideas. "I never lost a game on the tactics board," he said. "It's the execution that matters, and the execution (tonight) was magnificent."

So now we have an odd scenario whereby the players have arrived at something closer to what they wanted all along - something closer to what De Bruyne was outspoken about last November - and Martinez, perhaps feeling a little undermined by the failure of his preferred formation, while also being praised for a system that wasn't really his brainchild.

None of this means that Belgium cannot win the World Cup. If they can beat Brazil, they can surely beat France and whoever awaits in the final. But the fact remains they rode their luck against the Selecao. They could have easily been 2-0 down before Fernandinho's howler put them ahead, at which point their system began to blossom when playing on the counter.

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Whichever expected goals model you care to consult, Brazil racked up enough chances to win the game twice over, but perhaps most disturbing of all was the physical state of the Belgian players in the final 20 minutes. During that time, it seemed obvious to all that fresh legs were needed but Martinez took what felt like an age to decide on his changes.

So it's distinctly possible that the Red Devils have now hit a brick wall and they just so happen to be up against the team who have conditioned themselves best over the past four weeks. France suffered disappointment for nine minutes against Argentina, but otherwise they've been ahead for 173 minutes of the four meaningful games they have played.

Tactically, they got their act together when the tournament was just 70 minutes old, bringing on Olivier Giroud for Mousa Dembele to find a winner against Australia, and they've looked comfortable and in control of their own destiny ever since. The 2-0 quarter-final win over Uruguay was tight on expected goals but as routine as anyone could want in reality.

The market makes France favourites by roughly 0.13 goals over 90 minutes, which looking at their respective starting line-ups is probably about right. What it doesn't appear to factor in sufficiently is just how much fatigue could be instrumental at this sixth hurdle and there's value in siding with the new tournament favourites to complete the job inside 90 minutes. 

Recommended bet:

France to beat Belgium at 6/4

FIFA - World Cup France vs Belgium 10 July, 18:00 GMT 0

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