The only 100% European quarter-final at the World Cup in Qatar will be played in Al Khor on Saturday. England and France meet in a duel that represents the pinnacle of a rivalry not only in football but also in history.
It is a well-known fact that the English do not like the French, and the French do not like the English. Two countries that have always viewed each other with suspicion and that have rarely agreed. And not even then completely. With the rise of football, the rivalry between them moved to the turf and initially, England dominated authoritatively. The first direct match was played in Paris on November 1, 1906, and ended with a decisive success for the guests: 15-0. A result that set the tone for future confrontations. France achieved its first victory only in 1931, a 5-2 at the famous Colombes, after 7 other consecutive failures.
Overall, England has the head-to-head advantage, but the pre-WWII duels weigh heavily in the overall record. In this century, the advantage is on the side of France, which prevailed in 4 of the 6 meetings. Probably the most famous remains the game from Euro 2004. On June 13, 2004, at Da Luz in Lisbon, “Les Bleus” won 2-1, thanks to a successful double by Zinedine Zidane.
In the World Cup, England and France were opponents twice and each time the English won. In 1966, it was 2-0, with Roger Hunt’s double. In 1982 it finished 3-1, with another double, this time from Bryan Robson. But both duels mentioned above took place in the group stage. This weekend’s game has a place in the semi-finals of the World Cup at stake. It’s the first elimination match between the two national teams at the biggest football competition.
For both rivals, who have the world title as their objective, it is really the first serious test in Qatar. France is trying to become the first national team since Pele and Garrincha’s Brazil (1958 and 1962) to win the trophy twice in a row. On the other hand, after the semi-final of WC 2018 and the final of Euro 2020, England wants to continue their progress and become world champions for the first time since 1966. There are strong arguments in each camp
England has 12 goals scored in the current edition of the World Cup (the best attack, tied with Portugal) and 8 different scorers, which says a lot about the many solutions that Gareth Southgate has at the moment. Top scorer of the tournament 4 years ago, Harry Kane, has only scored once so far, for example. And none of the 12 goals were scored from the penalty spot. From a defensive point of view, the English boasts 3 clean sheets, and the only two goals conceded so far are those in the emphatic victory against Iran (6-2), goals that came when the fate of the match was already decided.
In the last two matches, 3-0 with Wales and 3-0 with Senegal, Southgate used the trio of Bellingham-Rice-Henderson in the middle, which gave the team a balance rarely seen in the tenure of the current coach. Bellingham in particular impressed, especially against the Africans, and the performances of the midfielder from Borussia Dortmund already recommend him for the title of the youngest player of the World Cup in Qatar. If England’s three midfielders manage to repeat the solid performances of the previous games, the reigning world champions will have a hard time trying to impose their game.
However, despite the very good defensive record, the English defense will be put to the test against France. Southgate’s centre-backs Harry Maguire and John Stones will face the explosive Kylian Mbappe, who, with 5 goals, is the top scorer at the World Cup. The PSG star is not alone. Olivier Giroud shows frightening cold blood for the opponents: he has already scored 3 times in Qatar and became the best scorer in the history of “Les Bleus”, with 52 goals, surpassing Thierry Henry. In addition, Antoine Griezmann, while yet to score in the current edition, is having a formidable tournament, his contribution to Didier Deschamps’ side’s offensive output is enormous.
“It’s the hardest test we could have. They are world champions. They are very talented and have some fantastic personalities. But if you want to win the World Cup, you have to play against the best teams in the world and France is definitely one of them,” Southgate said.
The last duel between England and France took place in June 2017. At the Stade de France, “Les Bleus” won 3-2 in a friendly match. No one knows what the outcome will be on Saturday night, but it certainly won’t be anything friendly on the pitch.