England have spent years copying France. Now can they dethrone them?

In youth development and World Cups, France have pointed the way but Southgate’s players have no inferiority complex

Before England set off for Qatar, there was a feeling at the top of the Football Association, a consensus even. The World Cup was wide open, with eight or nine countries capable of winning it and England were absolutely a part of this pack. Yet if there was one team that stood out in the view of senior FA figures, one to be feared more than the others, it was France.

Perhaps the view was coloured by the possibility of France lying in wait for England at the quarter‑final stage, being the first elite-level nation that Gareth Southgate’s team stood to face. It was a prospect to sharpen minds and one that has duly played out – the showdown is on for Saturday night at Al Bayt Stadium.

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