Gareth Southgate said he was excited about the “fantastic challenge” of taking on France after England reached the last eight of the World Cup with a comprehensive 3-0 victory against Senegal.
Goals from Jordan Henderson, Harry Kane and Bukayo Saka were enough to take England past Senegal and into a daunting quarter-final with the world champions.
France maintained their progress with a 3-1 win against Poland on Sunday and Southgate said his side would relish testing themselves against “the very best” at Al Bayt Stadium on Saturday, even though it will not be easy for his defence to find a way to deal with the speed and finishing of Kylian Mbappé.
“In terms of France, it’s the biggest test that we face,” England’s head coach said. “They’re the world champions. They have incredible depth of talent. Outstanding individual players. They’re very difficult to play against and score goals against. It’s a fantastic challenge and a brilliant game for us to prepare for. It’s a brilliant game for us to be involved in and test ourselves against the very best.”
Kane, whose goal took him one behind Wayne Rooney’s record of 53 for England, echoed Southgate’s comments. “If you want to win the World Cup you have to play the best sides in the world,” the England captain said. “France are certainly one of those.”
Southgate is wary of the threat posed by Mbappé, who scored two brilliant goals against Poland. “He’s a world-class player who has already delivered big moments in this tournament and in previous tournaments,” he said. “But [Antoine] Griezmann is now over 70 consecutive games for France and he’s also a phenomenal player. We know Olivier Giroud so well and they have outstanding young midfield players as well, so everywhere you look when you’re studying France, they have an incredible depth in each position.”
England also have a wealth of attacking talent and Southgate was pleased to see Kane score his first goal of the tournament. “You could see the lift that gave him in the second half,” he said.
“For any striker when you haven’t scored it is there in the back of your mind and you get that lift of confidence when it comes. It was great. There’s nobody I’d rather have in that moment bearing down on goal and it was a really clinical finish.”
Southgate could take satisfaction from his selection calls coming off. Saka scored after replacing Marcus Rashford, Phil Foden earned two assists and Henderson justified his place in the team by calming England’s nerves with the opening goal.
There was also another outstanding display from Jude Bellingham. The 19-year-old midfielder produced an excellent assist for Henderson’s goal.
“I think the biggest thing is the mentality,” Southgate said. “We’ve obviously done a lot of work over the years with young player development and the thing that makes the difference is the mindset, the drive, the desire to learn and improve. And he has all of that. Him, Phil and Bukayo tonight, it felt the right moment for them. They all stepped up.”
Foden was full of praise for Bellingham. “I don’t want to big up Jude Bellingham too much because he’s still young, but he’s one of the most gifted players I’ve ever seen,” the attacker said. “I don’t see a weakness in his game. He’s got everything, and he’s going to be the best midfielder in the world.”
• This article was amended on 5 December 2022. France beat Poland 3-1, not 3-0 as an earlier version said.