DOHA: All eyes will be on Kylian Mbappe once again as France take on England in a tantalizing World Cup quarter-final clash, but the defending champions must hope their lack of options on the bench won’t be revealed on Saturday.
The Blues, who are looking to become the first team to retain the title since Brazil in 1958-62, were badly hit by injuries before the tournament with midfielders Paul Pogba and Ngolo Kante, and striker Karim Benzema all excluded.
Mbappe has been on fire in Qatar, with five goals and two assists, while Olivier Giroud has netted three, but they are yet to face a world-class side.
After wins over Australia and Denmark in their opening two matches, France’s fringe players did not cover themselves in glory in a 1-0 loss to Tunisia to complete the group.
Didier Deschamps’ starting 11 boast formidable firepower up front with Mbappe, Giroud and Ousmane Dembele, while Adrien Rabiot and Aurelien Tchouameni have proven extremely reliable in midfield.
Antoine Griezmann has been the perfect link between the lines.

At the back, however, France have problems.
Jules Kounde is not a natural right-back and left-back Theo Hernandez is more forward-thinking, which could pose problems if he gets caught up in England’s attacks.
Rabiot is well aware of England’s danger in wide areas but predicted they could be more cautious than in previous games.
“They have fast players on the wings, very attacking backs,” he added.
“They won’t take all the risks because we can also hurt them on the flanks.”
WALKER vs. MBAPPE
One of the strengths that has emerged throughout the tournament is England’s depth.
Manager Gareth Southgate was able to mix up his wider midfield and forwards than in previous tournaments and just about all delivered.
Their tally of 12 goals – matching their best World Cup set across three other matches in 2018 – came courtesy of eight players.
Harry Kane, the tournament’s top scorer in 2018, scored just one goal in Qatar but turned into a dangerous provider with three assists and looked sharp in England’s win over the Senegal in the round of 16.
Jude Bellingham has established himself as a driving force in midfield, playing with confidence well beyond his 19 years.
Having proven Premier League performers like Marcus Rashford, Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling come off the bench brings fresh legs and different challenges for tiring opposition defenders.
As goal scorers dominate the headlines, Southgate made sure to congratulate their defenders after the last 16 games as their side scored a third straight World Cup clean sheet for the first time in 20 years.
Harry Maguire and John Stones will enjoy Giroud’s more traditional challenge, but the key battle could be between one of the fastest defenders in the tournament and the fastest striker – Kyle Walker versus Mbappe.
The Frenchman has been thriving in Qatar, while Walker is apparently on his way back to sharpness after undergoing surgery for a groin injury in October.
One thing that should be given is that England will not be impressed with the occasion after their recent runs to the last four of the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020 final.
“As a team in Russia we were a bit inexperienced in big games. We got to the semi-finals, we scored early and we didn’t know how to deal with that,” Walker said. “We are better equipped now.”



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