When France face Belgium on Tuesday, fighting for a place in the World Cup final, Les Bleus will find well-prepared enemies who know them extremely well, according to dpa.
Chelsea winger Eden Hazard learned his trade with Lille, while Yannick Carrasco, Thorgan Hazard and Michy Batshuayi have also played in Ligue 1 at some point in their career.
Defender Thomas Meunier and midfielder Youri Tielemans currently play in France for Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco respectively.
“Frankly speaking, I’m a little upset we’ll have to face my team-mates and friends. On the other hand, the match will be a pure delight,” said Meunier, who is suspended for the clash on July 10 in St Petersburg.
Despite the pain of trying to eliminate his friends, Meunier’s insight into the France squad will be a boost for Belgium’s hopes of reaching a first World Cup final.
And Roberto Martinez’s team have another ace up their sleeve in the form of assistant coach Thierry Henry.
A 20-year-old Henry won the World Cup 20 years ago with France on home soil but now is helping Martinez unpick his own homeland’s hopes and dreams.
Playing 123 times for France, winning Euro 2000 as well as helping his side reach the World Cup final again in 2006 where they were defeated by Italy, Henry has been assisting Martinez over the last two years.
The legendary striker has focused on helping Romelu Lukaku and Belgium’s other strikers on getting the best from themselves.
“I think Thierry deserves huge credit. He has been working really well with Rom,” Martinez said after Belgium’s 3-2 last 16 win over Japan.
Despite not scoring, Lukaku played a key role in the game and also helped Belgium beat five-times World Cup winners Brazil in a Kazan quarter-final.
France striker Olivier Giroud says he will show Henry that he made a mistake working with Belgium instead of Les Bleus.
“It is bizarre to have Thierry against us in this match, I’d be very proud to show Thierry that he chose the wrong camp,” said Giroud.
“I’d have preferred to have Henry on our side, to give me and the other France strikers advice, but I am not too jealous.”
One France forward in particular who might have benefited from Henry’s presence is PSG star Kylian Mbappe.
Having a sensational World Cup, during which he eviscerated Argentina with his speed and intelligence on the counter-attack, the 19-year-old is aiming to emulate Henry by winning a World Cup in his first major tournament with France.
Like Henry, Mbappe broke through as a left winger at Monaco, before moving on to bigger things.
“It will be weird to see Thierry again. He is someone I like a lot,” Mbappe told Telefoot. “There is a lot of respect between us. He was a great player, he inspired me.
“He’s French, but he’ll be on the opponents’ bench, it will surely be strange for him too.”
Whoever wins at the St Petersburg Stadium, France will be represented in the Moscow final on July 15.
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