The World Cup is reaching the business end, with the biggest tie of the quarter finals being played on Saturday. England will face France in what will be a huge test for Gareth Southgate and the playing squad. If they manage to beat the current World champions, it will be validation for a manager that still has questions asked of his abilities. Meanwhile, a loss will provide further ammunition for those that believe Southgate is unable to win a major tournament with England.
To date, it has been a near perfect tournament for England. They are one of the few teams that remain unbeaten in the tournament. In their last three matches, they haven’t conceded a goal and they are the current leading scorers in the World Cup, joint with Portugal, with 12. The big question is are they able to knock out another major nation? At last summer’s European Championships, they managed to beat Germany, in what felt like a major mental barrier being lifted. However, questions remain about their mentality in these big matches. Saturday is a chance to prove that they can regularly compete with and beat the best nations in the world.
France have had a lot of injury problems in recent months. N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba are two players that were forced to miss the tournament. Days before the World Cup kicked off, Karim Benzema had to withdraw from the squad. In hindsight, these injuries may have been a blessing in disguise, as Didier Deschamps has settled on a system that works. One of the benefits has been that it gets the best from Kylian Mbappe. He will be the big danger man for France this weekend.
England haven’t picked up a single card during this tournament, showing that the team have been holding their discipline.
France are averaging 17.5 shots per game. Only Brazil (18.8) are averaging more from those countries left in the competition.
Jude Bellingham has been one of the breakout stars of this tournament. It has taken him a while to break into the first eleven, with Kalvin Phillips previously being preferred. However, the Manchester City man has had a lot of injuries and that has allowed Bellingham to get into the team. It now seems inconceivable that he will not be a regular starter for England. For a teenager to show the consistency and maturity in performance is incredible. It is easy to see why nearly every club in Europe would like to sign the Borussia Dortmund midfielder. Against Senegal, he played a key role in the first two goals. It was his tenacity off the ball and ability to drive with it that opened up the African champions. The former Birmingham City player is excellent in all facets of his game. England fans would have known his talent, but he is now showing it for the Three Lions. France’s midfield has been strong in this tournament, but they haven’t faced a player like Bellingham. He will need to have a good game if England are to progress.
Ahead of his match, the conversation has been focused on one player. Kylian Mbappe. It is difficult to think about any other player, as he is arguably the best player in the world at the moment. As he plays his football in Ligue 1, for a PSG team that is dominant, it is easy to overlook his abilities. At this World Cup, he is reminding everyone why he is one of the best players in world football. He is the overwhelming favourite to win the golden boot, as he already has five goals. This is two clear of any other player. The battle will be between Mbappe and Kyle Walker. It is hoped that the Manchester City defender will be able to compete with Mbappe, as he does possess a lot of recovery pace. That said, Mbappe is in electric form and he will have chances in any game. The clinical finishing against Poland was worrying for England. Southgate needs to remember that it is England vs France, not England vs Mbappe. If there is too much focus on the PSG forward, they could be punished elsewhere.
Callum Wilson has had a minor strain, but it is hoped that he will be passed fit to feature. Raheem Sterling is traveling back to Qatar after a family emergency.
Karim Benzema and Lucas Hernandez both pulled out of the squad after picking up injuries. The rest of the squad will be available for France.
This isn’t the same France team that won the World Cup. Although they are still a very good team, there are weaknesses there. England should be confident of beating France. They just need to approach the game with the correct mentality and not cower at the occasion. That has been a common problem for the Three Lions at World Cups. It could go all the way to extra time, but I will tip England to record a famous win.
England 2-1 France (After Extra Time)