Amidst the backdrop of controversy as regards the hosting and concerns over the readiness of Qatar to host the biggest global sporting event. The football has expectedly switched attention to where it needs to be and the 2022 FIFA World Cup has delivered more than anticipated on and off the pitch.
There have been upsets and thrills at the global showpiece, making for a must-watch spectacle in almost every game. This tournament has no doubt been a resounding success so far.
Despite completing a thousand passes and practising 1000 penalties, Spain were the victims as Morocco produced the latest upset to become just the fourth African side ever to reach a World Cup quarterfinal.
The first-ever winter World Cup has produced an entertaining mid-season tournament, and the first match-free days since the start is a good time to reflect on what has been and look forward to what is to come in the Last Eight.
There are some epic quarterfinal fixtures on show with England versus France being the biggest between two genuine contenders for this year’s crown.
Squeaky Bum Time
Certainly, there are no underdogs when Gareth Southgate’s side face the 2018 World Champions given the scintillating football on show.
England are the top scorers with 12 goals in four matches which equals their highest tally at a World Cup while the Three Lions have also kept three successive clean sheets – one less than their record in the tournament.
Having reached the 2018 World Cup semifinal and the 2020 European Championship final last year, England are full of confidence and rivals will be wary of their desire in Qatar.
A highly-anticipated contest with France is against the side one place above them in the FIFA world ranking in fourth and they will be keen to prove their World Cup credentials.
The defending champions are showing championship-winning mettle and England must secure this scalp in order to continue their charge.
The Three Lions are playing in their third consecutive quarterfinal at a major tournament and the psychological boost from beating Les Blues, who are aiming to retain the World Cup for the first time since 1962, would bolster their chances.
France may have lost the only two previous World Cup meetings with England but are unbeaten in six of their last seven head-to-head fixtures.
Both nations’ first engagement since 2017 has seen much of the pre-match talk centered on a rampant Kylian Mbappé taking on the English. The top scorer at the 2022 World Cup is looking sharp and hungry for glory and it will be fascinating to see how Gareth Southgate’s men set out to curb his immense threat.
Defence vs Attack or Attack vs Attack?
Mbappe’s considerable attacking qualities could prompt a return to England’s tried and trusted 3-4-3 formation which will see Kyle Walker tuck infield to accommodate Kieran Tripper at right wing-back, in a bid to ensure security at the back and keep an extra pair of legs on the rapid Paris Saint-Germain forward.
Nevertheless, an intense tactical spectacle could produce a modest score line (or maybe another epic penalty shootout?) given the pragmatism of both managers as well as the relative familiarity between both sets of players and what is at stake.
England’s midfield has a massive task of winning the battles in that key area to deny any French counterattacks and help push their team forward, but they will be up against an impressive department featuring a resurgent Adrien Rabiot and Aurélien Tchouaméni.
The latter must curb Jude Bellingham’s powerful forward forays as that could prove decisive in the outcome of the game, it is a contest to keep an eye on.
The French double-pivot will also have Harry Kane to worry about as he is a key creative hub for his team when he comes deep and having opened his scoring account against Senegal to add to his joint-top three assists, the England captain is a threat in any area of the pitch.
Indeed, establishing dominance in the central areas will be vital in deciding who comes out on top and who attains technical superiority.
A final before the final awaits and considering the pace on show, if you blink you could certainly miss it.