France, Belgium face off.
The two best teams of this World Cup lock horns tonight. A dream match that has every potential to live up to its billing as a Battle Royale.
A fierce fight is on the cards at many levels between the two attacking sides of world football. France are in possession of the richest talent and Belgium in the company of their Golden Generation. Both teams have already proved they can score, hold on to it and come back into the match after conceding goals.
There will be lots of small fights within the fight.
A fight of class between No. 10s is one of those.
Although not always the case, the best player of the team usually puts on the number 10 jersey in football. The No. 10 jersey carries with it a sense of greatness, a sign of respect and a symbol of hope. The history of the World Cup is filled with magical players who, with this jersey on, put in amazing performances for their countries. The No. 10 jersey was popularised with Pele's phenomenal performance in 1958, and then almost all the greats including Maradona arrived thereafter wearing the shirt and made it more famous. In this World Cup, Lionel Messi and Neymar too wore the No. 10 but could not do much.
It would be interesting to see how the No. 10s of France and Belgium fare. Eden Hazard is not only the best in the Belgium camp but also one of a few top playmakers in the world eligible to wear the number. He is the heart of Belgium that never stops. Either he is scoring or making intelligent assists. He is active all the time. On the other hand, a French wonderkid is wearing the No. 10 in his debut World Cup. And Kylian Mbappe has already more than justified the decision. Interestingly though, Mbappe has invoked memories of Pele by becoming the first teenager since the Brazilian legend to score two goals in a World Cup knockout match.
There will be a battle of wits between two coaches -- France's Didier Deschamps and Belgium's Roberto Martinez. The game plan is all too crucial. At this stage of the tournament, they have adequate knowledge about each other's weaknesses and strength. So, the homework is done and the plot ready.
There will be a battle of efficiency between two captains in implementing game plans. France's Hugo Lloris can count on his captaincy experience to prevail over Eden Hazard, Belgium's captain for this World Cup. Lloris will keep under the bar while Hazard will lead the attack from midfield. The captain's armband is a test of character. Some rise to the opportunity and become magnificent. Hazard is becoming magnificent.
It will also be a battle between midfield marshals to dictate the game. It would be a treat to watch how France's masterful duo of Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante operate against Belgium's highly energetic trio of Axel Witsel, Nacer Chadli and Marouane Fellaini.
And, of course, goals are all that matter in the end. So, the focus will be on two rival strikers -- France's Kylian Mbappe and Belgium's Romelu Lukaku. Both are of African origin: formidable, speedy and hungry for goals.
But which team are going to celebrate in the end? It's a close call. But it is safe to say that the team that prevails in the majority of battles within battles would win the match!
The writer is former Sports Editor of The Daily Star