The quarterfinals at the 2022 FIFA World Cup are nicely shaping up, as the headline clash will surely be contested between Kylian Mbappe’s France, and Harry Kane’s England. The Three Lions take on the defending world champions France in their quarterfinals match-up on December 11. While Argentina vs the Netherlands, Croatia vs Brazil, and one more quarterfinal to be decided between Portugal, Spain, Morocco and Switzerland is in the pipeline, fans have been sent into a frenzy after France vs England was locked for one of the last-8 fixtures.
England are eyeing a World Cup triumph for the first time since 1966, as the team coached by Gareth Southgate is even carrying the tag of one of the favourites to go all the way in Qatar. They have indeed also played in a manner to justify the tag, having emerged out as undefeated from the group stage, and winning the last-16 tie 3-0 against Senegal. But their World Cup starts now in the true sense, as they face Kylian Mbappe and co, with Leicester City midfielder James Maddison pinning his hopes of one England teammate to try and stop the PSG superstar.
Maddison looking at Kyle Walker to go toe-to-toe with Kylian Mbappe
As soon as England were pitted against France in the quarterfinals, one man who felt the pressure more than anybody was Kyle Walker. Many have already named him as England’s only hope to nullify the threat posed by Kylian Mbappe. The former Monaco attacker is known for his electrifying pace, which was on full display during France’s last-16 game against Poland, and there is hardly a player who can compete with him in that aspect.
And Manchester City full-back Kyle Walker is certainly one player, who can match the France forward’s pace. Walker, likewise Mbappe, is known for his pace as well, which the fans regularly witness in the Premier League. Southgate was sweating on the availability of Walker before the World Cup as the 32-year-old had undergone a surgery on his recurring groin injury and was a doubt for the tournament. Although Southgate had a pool of right-backs to pick from, Walker has never been so important for them, as Maddison explained while speaking on talkSPORT:
“He [Kylian Mbappe] is a fantastic player, one of the best in the world. I’m sure we’ll prepare right to try and stop him. Kyle Walker started right-back in the game against Senegal. He’s one of the best full-backs in the world. I think if anyone can do a job, I think it’s him.
“But listen, France have a lot of threats, it’s not just Kylian Mbappe. They’re a brilliant team, and that’s why they are reigning champions. We’ve got a lot to be wary of. But the tactical work that we do, the work that goes in on the background will leave us in good stead hopefully, and hopefully we can progress.
“Everyone [in the team] is buzzing [ahead of the France game]. What a positive performance [against Senegal], what a brilliant night for the nation – everyone back home and everyone here. The atmosphere is brilliant at the minute and rightly so.”
However, Walker has managed only one start for England at the tournament so far since returning from the groin surgery. He didn’t play a minute against Iran and the USA in the group stages, has a mere 147 minutes of gametime in Qatar under his belt. At this point, it could prove to be a too much of an ask from Walker to ‘stop’ the Parisian bullet of Kylian Mbappe in only his second start at the tournament, if all Southgate names him in the starting eleven.
But England very well know their options over Walker in Kieran Trippier and Trent Alexander-Arnold are no match to Mbappe and that they are bound to suffer against him. Walker must be feeling the pressure now that his teammates are counting on him to neutralise Mbappe. Moreover, former English players in Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand too have stated that they can only looks towards Walker as the solution to contain the 23-year-old France attacker from delivering his usual exploits against the Three Lions.
Meanwhile, Mbappe has already racked up 5 goals in 4 games at the tournament, and looks fully determined to retain his country’s world title. However, as Maddison rightly pointed out, France possess more threat than just Mbappe. They have pace on both the wings, with Ousmane Dembele back in ‘2018 World Cup’ version, where he tore apart the opponents with his speed. England will have to prepare themselves to run relentlessly against this France team, if they are to topple them and book a place in the semifinals.