Hugo Lloris has said France are primed for a “big battle” with England as the countries prepare to renew their rivalry in Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final. The teams have met only twice in a competitive fixture this millennium and never in a World Cup knockout match but the France captain, citing the needle between the nations in rugby union’s “Le Crunch”, acknowledged all the ingredients are there for a mouthwatering showdown at Al Bayt Stadium.
No team scored more goals in Qatar than England (12) in reaching the last eight and Lloris said France recognise the significance of the occasion as well the quality of the opposition. England have also kept three successive clean sheets. France, meanwhile, possess the tournament’s leading goalscorer in Kylian Mbappé and the reigning champions are bidding to become the first country since Brazil in 1962 to win back-to-back World Cups.
“There is a rivalry between England and France – there has been for some time, they are two major footballing nations but you see that rivalry in other sports as well like rugby,” Lloris said. “We know they are two very strong teams. The World Cup, France v England, [it] is always a special match. England is also an ambitious country, they have come here to win the World Cup, so it’s up to us to do what we can to win.”
Lloris said England have made impressive strides in recent years and considers Gareth Southgate’s side to be edging closer towards winning a major tournament after finishing runners-up at last year’s European Championship. “There is a real progression, I believe this [England] team is maturing and getting ready to compete for trophies,” Lloris said. “They were a bit unlucky at the last Euros. There were a lot of changes in the side with a new generation who are ready to compete because they are all playing for the best teams in Europe. It is going to be a big battle. There is everything for a big game and it is up to the players to perform.”
Lloris is also captain of Tottenham, where his clubmate of nine years, the England captain, Harry Kane, is vice-captain. Lloris said Kane is one of the best penalty-takers in the world but hopes the game does not boil down to a shootout. “We have to be ready for any scenario,” Lloris said. “It is a quarter-final of the World Cup, it is a huge event and we know what it means for the fans, for the nations.”
One of the recurring themes from the France camp this week has been England’s threat from set pieces. Adrien Rabiot, who is set to start in an unchanged France team, said they must be alert at corners and it did not take long for Lloris to volunteer the subject of the set-piece threat posed by England.
The France manager, Didier Deschamps, also alluded to England’s record at set pieces. England scored nine of their 12 goals at the World Cup in Russia four years ago from set pieces and have scored two at this tournament. “Every little detail is going to count in this match so set pieces are going to be important,” Lloris said. “They are very tall and have some players who take good free-kicks. That is one of the aspects where we are going to have to be strong.”
The France midfielder Aurélien Tchouaméni and the defender Jules Koundé are both one booking away from a one-match suspension but Deschamps said he did not expect the pair to play “at half-pace or with the handbrake on”. Deschamps insisted Mbappé, who has scored five goals in Qatar, including two against Poland in the last 16, is ready to shine again.
“Kylian is in a position to make the difference,” Deschamps said. “Even in his last match, when he didn’t show his top form compared to his previous games, he was still decisive. We have other players that can be dangerous as well and that helps us. But Kylian is Kylian and he always will be. He has that capacity to make the difference.”
England have not beaten France in a competitive fixture since the 1982 World Cup, when two goals from Bryan Robson and one from Paul Mariner earned a 3-1 group-stage victory in Spain. When asked to highlight England’s weaknesses, Deschamps, who captained France to the World Cup in 1998 and led France to the title in 2018, replied: “They don’t have any. All teams have strengths, not too many of them have weaknesses.
“They have some slightly less strong points, if you like. They have had the opportunity to see us play in four matches, even if the third match [a 1-0 defeat by Tunisia, when France made nine changes] perhaps wasn’t very useful for them. You try to identify the slight weaknesses of your opponents, areas where you think you can work on and attack them.”