England will play France in the World Cup quarter-finals on Saturday; Gareth Southgate's side reached the last eight with a 3-0 win over Senegal, while the French beat Poland 3-1; France are the reigning world champions and Southgate said: "It's the biggest test we could face"
Monday 5 December 2022 15:09, UK
Gareth Southgate has admitted France pose the biggest test England could possibly face at the World Cup after his side set up a quarter-final clash with the world champions on Saturday.
England beat Senegal 3-0 in the last 16 on Sunday to reach the last eight for the second successive World Cup, with Didier Deschamps' side standing in the way of a semi-final berth after they saw off Poland 3-1 earlier in the day.
Southgate's side have only beaten France once in seven meetings since the turn of the century, while the manager lost his only encounter with Les Bleus - a 3-2 defeat in June 2017.
Deschamps' side lifted the trophy in Russia in 2018 and ahead of the meeting at the Al Bayt Stadium, Southgate said: "In terms of France, it's the biggest test we could face.
"They're world champions with an incredible depth of talent and outstanding individual players. They're very difficult to play against and score goals against, so it's a fantastic challenge and a brilliant game to prepare for."
England's game with France is the second quarter-final to be confirmed after Argentina set up a contest with the Netherlands on Friday, and Southgate said: "The two quarter-finals that are already in place are historic rivalries.
"It's a great game to be involved with and to test ourselves against the very best."
France breezed past Poland thanks to two goals from Kylian Mbappe, who is the top scorer at the World Cup with five goals from four games.
Mbappe - who is still only 23 - also scored in the 2018 final when France beat Croatia, and Southgate said: "He's a world-class player and has already delivered big moments in this tournament and in previous tournaments."
The England manager also highlighted the qualities of two of Mbappe's team-mates, saying: "I think [Antoine] Griezmann now has over 70 consecutive games for France and I think he's also a phenomenal player.
"We know Olivier Giroud so well and they also have outstanding young midfield players. Everywhere you look, when we're studying France at every age group, they have incredible depth of talent at every position."
Sky Sports' Gary Neville - a former England player and coach - said right-back Kyle Walker will be key to halting Mbappe, who tends to play on the left of France's attack.
"I think for a couple of weeks in all of our minds we thought it was a collision course between him and Kyle Walker," Neville told ITV. "I can't actually think of another right-back in the world that I'd want to put up against him.
"That doesn't mean that Kyle will mark him out of the game. This is a sensational player, the new best player in the world. Devastating.
"Kyle will get closer to him - he's got more pace than the Polish players had."
However, Sky Sports' Roy Keane said it will be "almost impossible" for England to rein in Mbappe, telling ITV: "I think it's almost impossible to stop him - that's why he's the world's greatest player.
"But it doesn't mean to say you can't win the game of football. England have their own attacking players and you double up, you get bodies around him.
"England have enough in their locker to cause them problems at the other end."
It was revealed before kick-off that Raheem Sterling would not be available for England due to a "family matter" - later revealed to be armed intruders entering his home while his family were present - and Southgate confirmed the Chelsea forward will return to England.
"Raheem is having to deal with a family situation so he's going back to England," said the manager. "We've got to give him time to try to resolve that and be there for his family. That's the most important thing at the moment so we're going to give him that space.
"It didn't impact the team selection. I spent a lot of time with Raheem this morning but you have days where events happen and you have to deal with them.
"He's on his way home. We're obviously mindful of him being allowed space and his privacy being respected so we don't want to talk in too much detail.
"It's not ideal for the group ahead of a big game but it pales into insignificance - the individual is more important than the group in those moments."
While Mbappe - France's standout player - continues to flourish on the world stage, England's main man also got himself amongst the goals on Sunday.
Harry Kane went without a goal during the group stages after he ended the previous World Cup with the Golden Boot, but scored England's second in their 3-0 win over Senegal to get off the mark in Qatar.
"As a striker, scoring goals is what you do and it's one of the best feelings you can have in football," said Kane. "I was waiting patiently to try and score and thankfully that was today.
"I feel good. Hopefully this can start a good run for me personally because I know that will help the team as well.
"But, as you saw today, we've got people scoring from all sorts of positions, which is really important when you go into the later stages of a tournament."
Kane also echoed Southgate's thoughts on France posing a tough test for England but acknowledged he and his team-mates would have to face the best teams around if they want to lift the World Cup for a second time.
"Saturday will be really difficult," said the England captain. "France are a great team, reigning champions, so we know it's going to be a really tough evening.
"If you want to win the World Cup you have to play the best sides in the world and France are definitely one of those."
Senegal had two glorious chances to open the scoring before Jordan Henderson struck the first goal for England, with Ismaila Sarr blazing over from just yards out before Jordan Pickford produced a superb save to deny Boulaye Dia.
The African champions struggled to cause England problems once Southgate's side took the lead but their manager, Aliou Cisse, refused to put the blame on his misfiring forwards.
Asked if Sarr and Dia's missed chances were the reason for Senegal losing the game, the former Birmingham and Portsmouth midfielder said: "No, I wouldn't say that.
"A match lasts 90 minutes. For half an hour we played pretty well and we created chances, but unfortunately we didn't score. We were playing a very good England team but we weren't as good as we should have been.
"I'm not trying to make excuses but we were missing two or three players who probably could have given us something extra.
"We saw a big difference between the teams today. We've worked for years to be the best African side but now we were playing a team from the top five in the world and I think you saw the difference."