Last Updated on December 10, 2022 by
From the game room of the luxurious Al Messila Resort in Doha, laughter can be heard from afar.
France’s eight players sit at a large rectangular table, Uno cards in hand, nearing the end of the game – and it’s tense. Youssouf Fofana and Aurelien Tchouameni look like they could win, but Dayot Upamecano is also in a strong position. One card and everything can change.
It was a scene two days before the World Cup quarter-final against England, yet it was an evening like any other in the France camp.
Whether it’s Uno, poker, piano, pool or PlayStation, players enjoy downtime. This team is happy and you don’t feel the nerves before facing their old rivals.
The men’s national teams of France and England have never met in the knockout phase of a major tournament. The last time they played each other at the World Cup was in 1982 in the group stage in Spain, when England won 3-1, Bryan Robson scoring after 27 seconds.
There are no secrets between the two parties. Hugo Lloris will brief Raphael Varane and Upamecano on the habits and strengths of Tottenham team-mate Harry Kane.
Manchester United’s Varane will discuss Luke Shaw with Ousmane Dembele. Olivier Giroud knows John Stones and Harry Maguire well. All current Premier League players – and even former ones – will be talking about Kyle Walker Kylian Mbappe. This is, of course, also the case in the England camp.
There is a good mood among the players of France. When they get to a big game like this, you see their concentration and focus change.
When they are big favorites, they struggle not to become complacent. They know this England will be hard to beat. They may be slight favorites because they have Mbappe, but it will still take a huge collective effort to reach the WC semi-finals.
Mbappe feels great. He was laughed at by the reaction of the English media after he missed training on Tuesday – instead recuperating indoors, but that sparked rumours.
There was nothing to worry about, but it showed an obsession with him. Kylian is happy, cool and can’t wait for the game to start – and his battle with Walker.
At the start of the tournament, when Karim Benzema joined the ranks of France’s injured players along with Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Presnel Kimpembe, Mike Maignan and Christopher Nkunku, Mbappe stepped up and took full command.
This had become his World Cup, his stage, and he felt he had to carry his team. He always says he was born for it, born to be a star, to be a key player. He has done so so far, but his biggest test, like France’s, will be on Saturday.
Even with the Paris St-Germain striker in this mood, Didier Deschamps had to reassemble his starting 11 due to all the absences.
He had a big jigsaw in front of him with parts all over the place and he had to put them back together. Before the tournament started there was a lot of skepticism at home about this French side and how far they could go.
With solid games against Australia and Denmark in the group stage, and Poland in the round of 16, they showed their level, talent and cohesion.
Reinventing Antoine Griezmann as a number eight, patrolling the midfield and leading plays, was a brilliant move by Deschamps. In his number seven he saw all the ability to shine in this new role and the Atletico Madrid player did not disappoint.
He has been outstanding, creating more chances than anyone else at this World Cup so far, while averaging five rebounds per game. Hard work and influence is Griezmann’s job and he does it well.
Thus, skepticism left and optimism replaced it. The French have occasionally been known to be overconfident, but not this time.
England – their attacking prowess, their Jude Bellingham, their set-piece threat – are keeping France on their toes at least until kick-off on Saturday.
After that, it will be a won or lost game in detail. The French players hope to afford more time for the passionate games of Una.
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