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Sport Preview: World Cup Quarter-Finals - Sat 10th Dec

World Cup Quarter Finals: England v France

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England vs France: Sat 10th Dec, 7:00pm

England versus France on Saturday night is probably the most attractive-looking World Cup quarter-final tie.

It pits two of Europe’s giants – just a place separate them in the FIFA Rankings – with France at four and England at five. Their performances in Qatar have also been of equal standing and it looks a very tough game to call.

England’s tournament record over the last four years is as good as anyone in Europe.

Runners-up to Italy at Euro 2020 and semi-finalists at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, where France took the crown, Gareth Southgate has mentored a tournament team.

France, the holders, are the bookies’ favourites heading into the Al Bayt Stadium clash – the venue for England’s 3-0 round-of-16 success over Senegal and the draw with USA.

The former was as good as the Three Lions have shown in Qatar, against a lively opponent, who were expected to give England a tough game.

The Africans did exactly that for half an hour, with their high-energy press causing England issues. But Gareth Southgate made a shrewd tactical change to drop Jordan Henderson deeper in that game and it worked a treat with space left further up the field for Harry Kane.

It’s a facet to Southgate’s coaching that has not got too much recognition in the past and if things start going wrong against France then he has shown he can fight fires.

France are unlikely to press England like Senegal did, just as the Three Lions will not go all-out on the frontfoot to stop France playing out from the back.

It will likely be a game where both sides drop off and invite each other to work a way through.

England have shown that they are very dangerous in transition and France also have pace to burn with Ousmane Dembele and Kylian Mbappe.

Mbappe is the biggest danger to England and Steve Holland has hinted that they will have a special plan to keep the Golden Boot leader quiet.

Southgate must decide whether to stick with a back four or use a back five as he did against Germany at Euro 2020. That day Kyle Walker played in a back three with John Stones and Harry Maguire, with Kieran Trippier and Luke Shaw the wing-backs.

If that’s the case again, then Jordan Henderson, who was brilliant against Senegal, is likely to miss out. But should Southgate stick with a back four, then Henderson and Jude Bellingham will be integral to keeping Mbappe quiet.

While Walker is the most equipped to deal with Mbappe’s acceleration, mobbing Mbappe when he is in possession will probably be Henderson and Bellingham’s brief.

In possession, though, Bellingham has proved to be key for the Three Lions. His inclusion has made England a better side than the one that were cruelly beaten by Italy in the Euro final on penalties.

His forward running, pass execution and goalscoring prowess have all come to the fore in Qatar and he will be a key man for England.

France’s obvious danger is Mbappe. His five goals have powered Les Bleus to the quarter-finals and if Southgate can plot a way to keep him isolated then England look good enough to capitalise.

France have conceded in every game and have not looked an assured defensive unit. England, meanwhile, have kept three clean sheets, but Iran found a way through and scored from a penalty.

Senegal were also close to scoring twice before England ran out 3-0 winners and France, who have had 68 goal attempts this tournament, are capable of breaching their back line.

England look to have the edge man for man, however, and if Southgate can win the tactical battle then England can get into the semi-finals.

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