England’s World Cup campaign hit the ground running with three goals before half-time against Iran, as they cruised to victory, though the concession of two second-half goals irked coach Gareth Southgate. Just as happened during the Euros, The Three Lions’ momentum was checked on Matchday 2, as they failed to break down the USA. They got their campaign back on track against Wales with a convincing 3-0 win, before accounting for Senegal, after a nervy start. The west Africans had the best of the early chances but two goals before half-time and one after the break spared England’s supporters the usual knockout stage jitters. Across their four matches in Qatar, England have averaged 65% possession and registered 21 shots on target, while allowing only six.
Many nations would have seen their World Cup ambitions ruined with the loss of five first-choice players. Not France. Despite the absence of Messrs Benzema, Pogba, Kanté, Kimpembe, and Lucas Hernández, France won their opening two matches. After conceding a goal against Australia inside nine minutes, France cruised to a 4-1 victory. Denmark had looked likely to be France’s toughest group opponent, and after falling behind, they pegged Les Bleus back on Matchday 2, before Kylian Mbappé secured the three points with an 86th-minute goal. With a place in the Round of 16 already assured, coach Didier Deschamps made nine changes for the meeting with Tunisia, and it showed, with France losing 1-0. With several of the starters from the opening two games restored, France put Poland to the sword in the Round of 16. Two Mbappé strikes and one from France’s new record goalscorer, Oliver Giroud put France in control, with Robert Lewandowski’s penalty earning a Polish consolation, at the second attempt. France have averaged 57.8% possession in the tournament, so far, and have had 25 shots on target, while allowing nine.
According to the FIFA Rankings, there’s very little to choose between these two sides, with fourth-placed France sitting one spot ahead of England. Gareth Southgate has got most of the big calls right in this tournament — he reintroduced Phil Foden and Marcus Rashford for the Wales match and was rewarded with three goals from the duo. Southgate took much criticism for dropping Rashford against Senegal, but his replacement, Bukayo Saka added England’s third in that game. England have used 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formations in this tournament but have the option of switching to a back three. Central to this decision-making will be how to try to contain Mbappé, odds-on for the Golden Boot after notching five goals so far. Kyle Walker’s pace will be crucial as England look to reduce the damage that the PSG star can inflict. After a dalliance with three at the back prior to the tournament, coach Didier Deschamps is committed to a back four and, like England, it will probably be a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 set-up. Though England have won 17 and lost nine of the previous encounters between these nations, with five draws, France have had the upper hand in recent times. Les Bleus have triumphed five times, with two draws, and one defeat in the last eight meetings, most recently winning 3-2 in a 2017 friendly. The last World Cup meeting holds better memories for England when Bryan Robson scored what was then the fastest goal in World Cup history as the Three Lions prevailed 3-1. How England fans would love a repeat of that result.