After their 3-0 victory over Senegal in the last 16, England fans were starting to dream of the 56-year wait for World Cup glory finally coming to an end. Of course, there is still a long way to go, and some opposition fans are already calling arrogance but England supporters can be forgiven for getting their hopes up. After all, this is just the third time that England have reached the quarter-finals of three consecutive major tournaments, after 1966-70 and 2002-06.
Of course, at the 2018 World Cup, England were knocked out at the semi-final stage by Croatia in a 2-1 defeat after extra-time with many believing the Three Lions had passed up their biggest opportunity to add a second star to their shirt. But England centre-back Harry Maguire insists the squad have a belief they can win the World Cup that wasn’t existent in Russia.
“I think that’s the one thing I’d say that’s a lot different from the 2018 squad to this squad – I think we really believe that it is possible,” he told reporters.
“I played in 2018 and we got to the semi-final and I think a lot of the lads were happy. You were happy to be part of the semi-final.
“You know that whatever happened in that semi-final that you’d go home and be classed as a hero and everyone would be patting you on the back.
“I think now there’s a belief that we’ve got to win this tournament. It is a good change in the mentality.
“Of course, we know how tough it is going to be. I think there are probably five or six teams with the same belief.
“But in 2018, we probably weren’t one of those teams that had that belief. Now there’s five or six who have that belief and we’re one of them.”
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However, for many, England’s tournament will end this weekend as they face world champions France who are still on their search to become just the third nation to retain their World Cup crown. At the start of the tournament, France had some narratives to overcome, not least the recent poor record of defending champions but six points from their three group stage matches put that to an end.
There were some thoughts that France may have cost themselves some momentum in rotating heavily for their final group stage game against Tunisia, which they lost 1-0, but any fears were allayed in the last 16. Up against Group C runners-up Poland in the last 16, France blew their opponents away thanks to a brace from Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud’s record-breaking strike, only conceding late on from a penalty that Robert Lewandowski had two attempts at scoring.
Former French international and ‘Golden Goal’ scorer David Trezeguet was full of praise for Giroud after he overtook Thierry Henry to become Les Bleus all-time top goalscorer, naming him as “the most complete centre-forward” at the 2022 World Cup.
“Giroud is is the centre-forward from my time. There really aren’t any more. There is beauty, the technical side but you have to finish the job and Giroud seems to me to be the most complete in this competition.”
As soon as it became clear that England were going to face France in the quarter-finals, English minds immediately went to Kylian Mbappe and how their defence would deal with the superstar. Against Senegal, Kyle Walker didn’t have his best matches, and that is the wing on which Mbappe has been terrorising opponents at this World Cup. In four matches so far, Mbappe has five goals – more than any other player – but has also recorded two assists, had the most shots (21), joint-most shots on target (10) and completed the second-most take-ons (13) at the World Cup.
France have had more corners than any other team at the World Cup so far, averaging 7.25 per game, but they face an England side that has only conceded 2.75 per match. On the other hand, England are averaging five corners won per game while France concede 3.25 per match.
England haven’t had a good time against France in recent years, winning just one of the past eight meetings, including a defeat at Euro 2004 and draw at Euro 2012 – the two major tournament games this century.