World Cup: France hoping Mbappe will be enough to match England's impressive depth
DOHA – All eyes will be on Kylian Mbappe once again as France take on England in a mouthwatering World Cup quarter-final clash on Saturday, but the defending champions must hope their lack of options from the bench will not be exposed.
Les Bleus, who are looking to become the first team to retain the title since Brazil in 1958-1962, were hit hard by injuries ahead of the tournament with midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, and forward Karim Benzema all ruled out.
But Mbappe has been on fire in Qatar, with five goals and two assists, while Olivier Giroud has provided three goals, although they have yet to come up against a world-class team.
“I’m sure England will have prepared to face Mbappe but he’s in a position to make a difference,” said France coach Didier Deschamps on Friday.
“Even in games where he didn’t play his best he was still decisive. We also have other players who can do the job.”
The 54-year-old was keen to brush aside the media scrutiny on his star forward, insisting that England could pose a serious threat to their title ambitions.
“England is a team that does a lot of damage on the counter-attack. They have scored many goals in this way in the World Cup. They have a lot of quality,” he said.
“The quality they have, the ability to score goals, even from set pieces... It’s no coincidence that England will be our rival tomorrow. They are a great team.”
After wins over Australia and Denmark in their first two matches, France’s fringe players did not cover themselves in glory in a 1-0 loss to Tunisia to round out the group.
But Mbappe and Giroud returned to score the goals in their 3-1 win over Poland in the last 16.
Deschamps’ starting 11 features some fearsome firepower up front with Mbappe, Giroud and Ousmane Dembele, while Adrien Rabiot and Aurelien Tchouameni have proved extremely reliable in midfield.
Antoine Griezmann has been the perfect link between the lines.
France have no problems when they are attacking, and midfielder Youssouf Fofana is confident that Mbappe will have the last laugh after England right-back Kyle Walker said he would not let the Paris Saint-Germain striker stand in his way.
“If he knows how to stop Kylian, good for him,” he said.
“But 19 other Ligue 1 teams, and others in the Champions League, have been waiting for the solution. We have full confidence in Kylian. Kylian is focused on what the team has to do and what he has to do. I feel he is very calm and determined.”
At the back, however, Les Bleus have issues.
Jules Kounde is not a natural right-back and left-back Theo Hernandez is more forward-minded, which could present problems if he is pegged back by England’s attacks.
Rabiot is well aware of England’s danger in wide areas but predicted they may be more cautious than in previous games.
“They have players who are fast on the wings, full-backs who are very offensive,” he added.
“But they won’t take all the risks because we can also hurt them on the flanks.”
One of the strengths that has emerged through the tournament is England’s depth.
Manager Gareth Southgate has been able to shuffle his midfield and wide attackers and just about all of them have delivered.
Their tally of 12 goals has been achieved via eight players.
Harry Kane has scored only one goal in Qatar but he has turned into a dangerous provider with three assists.
Jude Bellingham has established himself as a driving force in midfield, playing with a confidence way beyond his 19 years.
Having proven Premier League performers like Marcus Rashford, Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling to come on from the bench brings fresh legs and different challenges for tiring opposition defenders.
Southgate is in a tricky position. Does he let his young attackers off the leash or bolster his defensive options?
The England coach has said that the match was the “biggest test we could face”.
“They are world champions, with incredible talent and outstanding players. They are very hard to play against and score goals against,” he said.
“It’s a fantastic challenge. It’s a brilliant game for us to be involved in and test ourselves against the very best.” - REUTERS, AFP