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France brace for England showdown in World Cup quarters

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Soccer Football – FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 – England Training – Al Wakrah SC stadium, Al Wakrah, Qatar – December 7, 2022 England’s Harry Kane and Kyle Walker during training REUTERS/Peter Cziborra

  • The two European heavyweights, separated by just 20 miles (32 kilometres) of ocean, have surprisingly met just twice on the biggest stage, but not since 1982
  • France, crowned world champions for the second time in Russia in 2018, eased past Poland in the last 16, with two goals from Paris Saint-Germain forward Mbappe and one from Olivier Giroud

Defending
champions France take on England in a mouthwatering World Cup quarter-final on
Saturday that pits superstar Kylian Mbappe against a forward line-up packed
with youthful zest.

The two
European heavyweights, separated by just 20 miles (32 kilometres) of ocean,
have surprisingly met just twice on the biggest stage, but not since 1982.

France,
crowned world champions for the second time in Russia in 2018, eased past
Poland in the last 16, with two goals from Paris Saint-Germain forward Mbappe
and one from Olivier Giroud.

England beat
Senegal 3-0, turning on the style for an ultimately comfortable win against the
African champions after a shaky start.

Mbappe, 23,
is the Qatar tournament’s top scorer, with five goals in just four starts,
while Giroud’s strike against Poland made him France’s all-time leading
goalscorer.

Questions
about how England will keep the deadly Mbappe quiet have dominated the build-up
to the match, which takes place in the desert setting of Al-Bayt Stadium.

England’s
pacy right-back Kyle Walker, likely to have the task of shackling Mbappe on
Saturday, is anxious to avoid the impression that the fleet-footed attacker is
the only threat.

“I know
he’s a top player but we’re not playing tennis. It’s not a solo sport, it’s a
team game,” said the Manchester City defender.

“We
know he’s a great player and that’s why he’s the focus of all questions. But
let’s not forget (Olivier) Giroud, who has scored countless (goals), and
(Ousmane) Dembele, for me just as good on the other wing.”

The France
midfield has coped well in the absence of the injured N’Golo Kante and Paul
Pogba, with Antoine Griezmann impressing, but if there is a potential weakness
in Didier Deschamps’ lineup it could be in the full-back positions.

Jules Kounde
and Theo Hernandez will face a tough test against whoever they face, with
Marcus Rashford, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling all
in the mix.

That wealth
of attacking options means England will also have enviable game-changing
options on the bench.

France
midfielder Adrien Rabiot is predicting an open match.

“England
are a team with similar characteristics to us, really quick players out wide,
attacking full-backs and midfielders who like to get forward,” he said.

“But I
am not sure we need to say that we have to be wary of them. They will also be
very wary because we can cause them problems.”

Southgate is
in a tricky position. Does he stick or twist? Does he let his young attackers
off the leash or bolster his defensive options?

The England
coach came under fire in the build-up to the World Cup after a miserable
winless run even though he has credit in the bank from reaching the semi-finals
in 2018 and the final of last year’s Euro 2020.

England are
joint top scorers in Qatar heading into the quarter-finals, with 12 goals from
their four games.

Their
standout player has been marauding teenager Jude Bellingham, who has formed an
impressive partnership alongside the more defensive-minded Declan Rice.

Like France,
England’s potential weakness is at the back, with central defender Harry Maguire
vulnerable to pace.

Southgate
said the match was the “biggest test we could face”.

“They
are world champions, with an incredible depth of talent and outstanding
players. They are very hard to play against and score goals against,” he
said.

“It’s a
fantastic challenge. It’s a historic rivalry with great games from the past.
It’s a brilliant game for us to be involved in and test ourselves against the
very best.”



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