England take on France in a highly-anticipated World Cup quarter-final clash on Saturday evening at 7pm (GMT).
Gareth Southgate’s side have won all but one of their four games so far, a goalless draw against USA in their second Group B game the only dent on their record, while France have won all of theirs except for when a much-changed side lost 1-0 to Tunisia in their final Group D match.
But where could the match be won and lost at the Al Bayt Stadium? We break down three of the key battles that are set to take place on the pitch.
Kyle Walker v Kylian Mbappe
Walker has already come up against the fierce pace of Senegal’s Ismaila Sarr and Wales’ Dan James, but neither can prepare him for Kylian Mbappe; the World Cup’s top goalscorer with five goals in four matches.
Poland defender Matty Cash had to endure a torrid evening up against the Paris Saint-Germain star, who scored twice in the round of 16 clash on Sunday. Cash says that despite his research on the forward he could not find a way to stop him.
“I spent the afternoon watching his clips and I knew it was going to be a tough test, but when he gets the ball, stops and moves, he’s the quickest thing I’ve ever seen,” he said.
“When he stands you up and moves he does it really well. He drops the shoulder, goes short then long. I got into a couple of races with him and I did all right. You look over your shoulder and he’s there.”
Cash thinks Walker can stop Mbappe from having an impact, though.
He added: “Kyle Walker’s got way more experience than me, so I don’t need to tell him anything.
“He knows Mbappe is amazing, but I think Kyle Walker is England’s best right-back. So if anyone’s going to stop Mbappe, I think he’s the man to stop him.”
Walker was England’s quickest player against Senegal, getting up to a top speed of 21.3mph. That is according to STATSports who supply the GPS performance tracking equipment for the England team.
However, Mbappe has previously registered speeds of over 22.3mph so an outstanding performance from the Manchester City right back will be required to neutralise the Frenchman.
England boss Southgate may also decide to opt for a back three and have Walker cover a right wing-back such as Kieran Trippier or Trent Alexander-Arnold to help contain the 23-year-old.
Image credit: Getty Images
Harry Maguire v Olivier Giroud
One of the criticisms levelled at Harry Maguire is his lack of pace, but up against 36-year-old target man Olivier Giroud this is not expected to be a problem.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, the former Arsenal and Chelsea striker said he is expecting a tough battle up against Maguire and also his centre back partner John Stones.
The AC Milan frontman told RMC Sport: “It’ll be tough, physical and intense. They’re guys against whom I’ve played a lot of matches, sometimes I won, sometimes I lost.
“We know each other well, it’ll be all about the details.”
A decade of playing against physical defenders in the Premier League will aid Giroud, and the striker goes into the quarter-final with three goals already in this tournament, including the opening goal against Poland on Sunday.
Maguire will also have to be wary of not getting dragged out of position. One of Giroud’s great strengths is being able to create space for France’s forwards and Antoine Griezmann, who is normally stationed as Les Bleus’ No. 10. It is one of the reasons why Karim Benzema’s absence has not been felt so far.
The Manchester United defender will undoubtedly be keen to continue his fine form with a disciplined defensive display where he will likely be required to get physical.
Jude Bellingham v Adrien Rabiot
This could be the head-to-head that decides the outcome in England’s favour.
Bellingham has been one of the standout players for England at the tournament, scoring against Iran in England’s 6-2 win and driving forward to provide an assist for Jordan Henderson in their last-16 win over Senegal.
Rabiot has had a good tournament so far and grabbed a goal and an assist in France’s 4-1 win over Australia in their opening group game.
However, he is not known for his exceptional defensive qualities and it is that which Bellingham may look to exploit as he plays the most advanced role in England’s central midfield, looking to connect the midfield with the attack.
Rabiot often drifts to the left flank to cover the space left by Mbappe when he is not tracking back, which could mean more of an opportunity for Bellingham to thrive in the space left in the central area of the pitch.
Going forward, Rabiot may play more of a restrained role than in previous matches. His midfield partner Aurelien Tchouameni is just one yellow card away from missing the semi-final through suspension.
With the support of Jordan Henderson going forward from central midfield, Bellingham could again remind football fans around the world why he is one of the best young players England have.
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