England vs France: Three key players to look out for

The Hard Tackle looks at three key players to look out for in the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2022 quarter-final between England and France.

The stage is set for the final quarter-final fixture at the FIFA World Cup 2022. Croatia and Argentina have completed the first semi-final lineup. And by the end of Saturday, we will know which two teams will lock horns in the other fixture in the penultimate stage. And the Last Eight will end with a blockbuster clash between England and France at the Al Bayt Stadium.

England and France have been two of the most eye-catching teams at the FIFA World Cup 2022 thus far. While the Three Lions are one of only two unbeaten teams left in the tournament, Les Bleus have looked worthy of the tag of defending champions. Didier Deschamps’s men have also ended the voodoo surrounding the World Cup holders in the past decade.

Gareth Southgate has done well to put the pre-World Cup concerns surrounding England to bed. While his charges have not always been in full flow, they have done well in most of the games. On the other hand, France’s nightmare of a UEFA Euro 2020 campaign last year seems like a bad dream.

The defending world champions have been sensational bar the game against Tunisia, where they played a second-string side. And Kylian Mbappe is leading the charge for France, whose campaign will continue against England on Saturday. Ahead of the mouthwatering clash at the Al Bayt Stadium, The Hard Tackle now lists three key players for the game.

Kylian Mbappe

Will Mbappe rise to the occasion again? (Photo by Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images)

Who else but arguably the best player in the world to kick things off in the list? We are, of course, talking about Kylian Mbappe, who has led the charge for France thus far at the FIFA World Cup 2022.

The 23-year-old might be seeing a lot of uncertainties surrounding his future at the club level. But for France, there is no looking past the relentless Mbappe, who looks primed to break records by the bucketloads in his career.

The young attacker leads the way in the Golden Boot race with three games potentially left for France. And he is also the leading contender to win it all by lifting the Golden Ball next week. But before Mbappe can count his chickens, he needs to wait for them to hatch. However, that is entirely in his control.

The Paris Saint-Germain talisman has forced England to create special ploys to neutralise him, which speaks volumes about how crucial he is for France. But the most elite players have a way to foil the best-laid plans. And Mbappe should be in business despite England’s concentrated efforts.

Mbappe does not even need to score to make his mark on the game, as he can take multiple defenders out of the equation with his movement. And that will help teammates like Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann to wreak havoc in the final third. So the France talisman will pose a multi-faceted threat to England.

Declan Rice

The rock in the middle for England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Kylian Mbappe is not the only player from France that England will need to worry about on Saturday. As iterated already, Antoine Griezmann will also be dangerous, especially if Mbappe frees up space for the veteran attacker. And that is where Declan Rice comes into the picture.

The 23-year-old has been a vital cog in Gareth Southgate’s squad for a few years. He was crucial in ensuring England’s path to the UEFA Euro 2020 final last year. And even though Kalvin Phillips is no longer by his side, Rice remains a pivotal figure for the Three Lions.

The West Ham United captain, a target for clubs like Chelsea and Liverpool, will need to be at his best to keep France quiet. And with Griezmann dropping deep to connect the midfield with attack, the onus will be on Rice to negate his influence.

The youngster will also be the most crucial element for England during transitions. And he will need to release the ball quickly for game-changers like Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden to ensure the Three Lions catch France off guard.

Finally, Rice will have to marshall the players around him and keep them disciplined to stop the French onslaught. And a game-changing performance will again capture the attention of suitors like Chelsea and Liverpool.

Bukayo Saka

Players like Jude Bellingham and Harry Kane will have the spotlight on them in the match. Meanwhile, Harry Maguire might need to play out of his skin to help England edge France on Saturday. As for the other team, Antoine Griezmann and Aurelien Tchouameni will look to make their mark. But Bukayo Saka will be one player to keep an eye on this weekend.

The 21-year-old started the FIFA World Cup 2022 with a bang by scoring twice against Iran. And he has gone about his job silently since then, enabling others like Bellingham and Phil Foden to shine brightly. But Saka will be an instrumental player for England if they get past France in the quarter-final.

The Arsenal attacker adds a different dimension to England’s gameplay with his directness. In addition, Saka’s ability to split defences also makes him a dangerous man for the opposition. So while players like Foden and Bellingham will look to overload France’s box, Saka will aim to find them in pockets of space.

At the same time, the youngster will pose a threat with his efforts from different ranges. And with Theo Hernandez likely to leave some space behind him, Saka should have enough opportunities to run at France’s central defenders. Expect the 21-year-old to make a difference for England if they beat France.

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