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2018 McDonald’s FIFA World Cup Fantasy: Semifinals Player Picks

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There are only four teams left, so your choices are limited. Which players are the best bets, and what approach should you take to get the most out of these two games?

Brazil v Belgium: Quarter Final - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
If you’re expecting goals from Belgium v. France, a certain Mr. Eden Hazard has to be involved, doesn’t he?
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Brazil getting bounced by Belgium likely took a few players away from you, and likewise you may have had several spots allocated to players from Russia, Sweden and Uruguay that are now in need of replacement. Let’s get down to business.

WHAT IS THE STRATEGY NOW?

  1. If you haven’t used your wildcard chip yet, now is the perfect place to put it into play. You have five free transfers this round, but likely you’d be well served by being able to use a few more. You also get five free transfers before the finals, but since there are no teams that will be knocked out, that allotment should be more than you’ll need.
  2. If you have your bench boost and maximum captain chips available, use one of them now and one in the finals. You can’t hold them any longer since you can’t use them at the same time. I advise using the maximum captain chip in the finals, due to the uncertainty surrounding the 3rd place game. (One team may play to win, while the other could have more of an eye to going on vacation, which could result in a lopsided score. As well, players may unexpectedly be rested.) If you are flummoxed as to your captain choice in Belgium v. France and really want cover, I could see that argument for using it now. But I’ve got Kane as my second day captain back-up, so I’m waiting for the finals.
  3. If you need to free funds for expensive purchases, feel free to use one or two (or even three if necessary) cheap enablers on the bench. Keep your ultra-cheap players from teams that are dead if they are cheaper than bargains on active teams, or go with cheap players from those teams that are still playing if they are cheaper than anybody you have on your roster. Ideally you will want two active goalkeepers and three active forwards, so your fifth midfielder and fifth defender are obvious candidates for where you’ll want to go that route.
  4. If you have a strong notion of which team will win the whole shebang, and you want to load up with the maximum six players from that team, go for it. You could also go with six players each from the two teams you expect to win in the semis, then reshuffle as desired with your five free transfers before the finals. (You can have up to six players from any national team in the semis, and eight in the finals.) Unless you are using your maximum captain, you will want at least one or two top players from each game day so that you can rotate your captain’s armband on the second day if your first day’s captain doesn’t perform well.
  5. Don’t be shy about going with all four teams’ primary PK takers: Antoine Griezmann, Eden Hazard, Harry Kane, and Luka Modric. As mentioned in the Dream Team Player Picks, this is officially THE WORLD CUP OF PENALTY KICKS.
  6. Your approach should take into account how your team is doing. If you’re ahead in your league, you can afford to play conservatively. If you’re chasing the leader, go ahead and take more risks with some under-the-radar, against-the-grain picks.

GOALKEEPERS

As in earlier rounds, you want one keeper on each game day, so that you can switch to your back-up keeper if your day one starter does not fare well. Belgium and France are basically a coin toss, while England is a clear favorite over an very exhausted and somewhat injured Croatia. I personally think Belgium will win, so that is why I am picking Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois (€6.0) along with England’s Jordan Pickford (€5.5). I don’t expect a clean sheet from either side in the first semifinal game, but wouldn’t mind being pleasantly surprised.

DEFENDERS

Since I think England has the best chance at a clean sheet from the four teams, I recommend John Stones (€5.9), Kieran Trippier (€5.5) and Harry Maguire (€4.9), who also bring a decent shot at offensive returns.

Sweden v England: Quarter Final - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Kieran Trippier has been a delight to watch on the ball in this World Cup.
Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images

While I prefer Belgium to France from a defensive standpoint, Belgian defenders are not cheap, I’m not expecting a clean sheet from them, and they haven’t done a huge amount on the offensive end. So in the other game, I prefer saving my money and going with France’s Lucas Hernandez (€5.0) and Benjamin Pavard (€4.5).

However, if Belgium’s Dedryck Boyata (€5.0) or Leander Dendoncker (€5.0) starts in place of the suspended Thomas Meunier and you are willing to make a drop ahead of the finals, that would be a cheap way of getting in on the Red Devils’ defense; of course, be sure to check team news as the deadline approaches to see who Roberto Martinez goes with. It’s not something I’d recommend per se, but it could make for an interesting differential play.

MIDFIELDERS

Good, cheap midfielders (such as Japan’s Inui and Russia’s Cheryshev) are gone, leaving the position extremely top heavy. If you find it a struggle to afford four or five quality midfielders and want to go with a cheap filler at fourth and fifth midfielder, I wouldn’t blame you at all.

Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne (€9.8) stepped up with a wonderful strike against Brazil, and all signs point to his continued active involvement. Teammate Marouane Fellani (€7.0) is a nice mid-priced pick, and if you’re looking to save even more money, I’d give a shout to Alex Witsel (€6.3). Witsel has not done contributed any offensive returns in this World Cup so far, but he has a decent track record with 9 goals and 8 assists in 94 international appearances.

England’s Jesse Lingard (€7.5) is the stand-out at the position for England, especially since he’s considerably cheaper than Dele Alli.

I’m not expecting much from Croatia, but as mentioned Luka Modric (€9.1) offers the chance at penalty kicks.

After having five games to show something — anything — France’s midfield is instead a fantasy waste land, with N’Golo Kante actually leading the way at only 13 points. The more expensive Paul Pogba (9 points) has been a complete bust. Unless your divining stick is pointing here, I’d avoid the midfield of Les Blues completely.

FORWARDS

Harry Kane (€11.2) leads the Golden Boot race, and he’ll be licking his chops to face a Croatia side that looked like world beaters in the group stage but has not kept a clean sheet in its past three games. Kane is the safe pick, while Raheem Sterling (€8.9) is the differential choice; he’s gotten a lot of brilliant chances so far, but just hasn’t converted them. If he can do so going forward, he will deliver a huge payoff.

France offers a choice between Antoine Griezmann (€10.0) and Kylian Mbappe (€9.1). My tie-breaker goes with PK taker Griezmann, but Mbappe is obviously no slouch. If you’re chasing things, a savvy play could be going even further down the line to Olivier Giroud (€8.9) who has not done much from a fantasy perspective yet, but like Sterling, Giroud has looked dangerous.

Uruguay v France: Quarter Final - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Antoine Griezmann doesn’t always need a howler from the opposing keeper to score.
Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Belgium’s Eden Hazard (€10.0) and Romelu Lukaku (€10.1) are similarly priced and have returned about the same number of points. Again, the tie-breaker goes with the PK man Hazard, but Lukaku is a good choice, too, especially for those who are behind.

I’m not counting on anything from Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic (€8.9), Ivan Perisic (€8.5), Andrej Kramaric (€7.8), and Ante Rebic (€5.5), but they are all interesting long shots if you have a hunch. They also make us scratch our heads and wonder if Croatia is actually playing four forwards in the XI. (The answer, of course, is no, not even close. Mandzukic is Croatia’s only true starting striker in their 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-4-1. But hey, you can only pick players at their listed positions, right?)

How are your teams faring? Do you have enough free transfers, or your wildcard chip, to give you a squad you feel good about? Are there any other players you are counting on who weren’t mentioned above? Let us know below in the comments!