Bellingham set up Jordan Henderson for the opening goal in the 38th minute before playing a huge part in Harry Kane’s 52nd England goal just before the break, and Gareth Southgate’s decision to bring Bukayo Saka back into the fold was vindicated, as Arsenal man made it three for England after 57 minutes.
Southgate was delighted to see his side display a streak of “ruthlessness” in another game where a below-par start led to a familiar sense of dread, and a semi-final with Morocco or Portugal now awaits if the Euro 2020 runners-up can send the holders packing.
However, quarter-final exits have been commonplace for England, who have been dumped out at this stage in 1954, 1962, 1970, 1986, 2002, and 2006 tournaments, and six of their last eight World Cup eliminations have come against fellow European nations.
A three-game streak without conceding a goal at the World Cup does stand England in good stead, and Southgate could now become the first Three Lions manager in history to lead the team to more than one semi-final, but the most formidable of formidable foes are standing in their way.
As Kane came up with a 52nd international goal to edge closer to the England record, Olivier Giroud’s 52nd strike was enough to see the AC Milan attacker storm to the top of the France charts, as Les Bleus displayed a clinical edge that Robert Lewandowski’s Poland had no answer to.
Mbappe turned provider for Giroud to fire home the opening goal, which saw the 36-year-old overtake Thierry Henry at the summit of the men’s goalscoring list, and the former soon came up with two thunderous finishes to put the game to bed before a retaken Lewandowski penalty gave Poland a late consolation.
Giroud still has some way to go to become France’s outright leading goalscorer – Eugenie Le Sommer has a staggering 86 to her name – but the veteran’s strength and link-up play complement the explosiveness of Mbappe perfectly, and England’s rearguard will have their work cut out for them here.
France has now reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup in five of the last seven editions – including each of their last three – and Didier Deschamps’s men have prevailed in eight of their last 10 knockout ties against fellow UEFA nations, but they are yet to silence all the critics.
Indeed, Les Bleus are still without a clean sheet at the 2022 World Cup and have lost both of their previous meetings with England at the tournament in 1966 and 1982, but more recent history does not favor the Three Lions, who can only boast one win from their last eight against the champions of the world.
England’s win over Senegal was somewhat overshadowed by the news of a break-in at the home of Chelsea attacker Raheem Sterling, who flew back to the UK over the weekend, but he will be back with the squad on Friday and should push for inclusion. Arsenal’s Ben White is also still absent for personal reasons.
Callum Wilson is also nursing a minor strain but was never expected to start, and Southgate has also been handed a slight scare with Declan Rice, who missed training on Wednesday due to illness, although his ailment is unlikely to prevent him from playing on Saturday.
Many have tipped Southgate to revert to a three-man backline for the weekend, but the 52-year-old has hinted that he will stick with the tried-and-tested 4-3-3 setup that has paid dividends so far, allowing Henderson to link up with Rice and Bellingham in the midfield once more.
Over at the Bleus camp, a media frenzy was sparked when top scorer Mbappe missed training on Tuesday due to discomfort in his ankle, but it was merely a false alarm, as the 23-year-old was back on the practice pitches on Wednesday and should form part of an unchanged XI.
Incredibly, France has won all nine of their World Cup matches that Mbappe has started, and his attacking partner Giroud – who has three goals to his name in Qatar – could equal a record set by a 38-year-old Roger Milla, who to date is the only 36+ player to score four goals at a single World Cup.
Aurelien Tchouameni and Jules Kunde will both miss any potential semi-final if they are yellow-carded here, but Deschamps is unlikely to factor in any on-field disciplinary infringements when selecting his best XI.
England’s possible starting lineup:
Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw; Bellingham, Rice, Henderson; Saka, Kane, Foden
France’s possible starting lineup:
Lloris; Kounde, Varane, Upamecano, T. Hernandez; Tchouameni, Rabiot; Dembele, Griezmann, Mbappe; Giroud
Players to Watch
England: Jude Bellingham
Teenage sensation Bellingham will play a huge role in getting England up the pitch. He has won possession more often than any team-mate (23), with only Harry Kane (six) doing so more often in the final third (five). He’s been a key part of England winning the highest turnovers at the tournament (38).
France: Olivier Giroud
Mbappe has the talent to decide the game not just by scoring but also by setting up Giroud, as he did against Poland. Mbappe (five) alone has scored more goals for France at this World Cup than the 36-year-old (three). The only older player to net four at a single World Cup was 38-year-old Roger Milla for Cameroon in 1990.
England players will know Giroud well from his nine seasons as a Premier League goalscorer at Chelsea and Arsenal.
England vs. France Prediction
Neither Walker nor Rabiot may be able to choose a favorite, but Opta’s supercomputer can – just.
France is given a 40.3% chance of winning, ahead of slight underdogs England’s 32.4%. In a tie, this tight, extra time or penalties could be required, with the draw rated at 27.3%.