The 2018 FIFA World Cup champions France began the defence of their crown with a comfortable 4-1 hammering of Australia, but ITV pundit Graeme Souness was not impressed.
In fact, so unimpressed was Souness with France that he says England should not be afraid of meeting the two-time World Cup winners in the knockout rounds.
Ahead of France’s second group match of the tournament, against fellow UEFA side Denmark, Souness was unequivocal.
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He said: “I know they are the current world champions but when I look at them on paper, I know you can look at teams on paper and think they are going to win every game they play, but I look at that French team and if I was Gareth Southgate I am not frightened of that French team. I am really not.”
Souness said he would ask his defenders to keep close tabs on Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe.
“I would be frightened of him [Mbappe], one-on-one he is going to run past anyone,” Souness said. “But I don’t think on paper anyway, unless they gel and they all come together and play out of their skins, I am looking at their midfield, they’re the ones that are looking to be creative. It wouldn’t frighten me. If I was picked today I wouldn’t be frightened of them.”
The Scotland and Liverpool legend is hardly a cheerleader for Southgate in general or England in particular, but he argued that the Three Lions would be able to handle France.
France have been considered among the favourites to win the title in Qatar, and their opening match could hardly have undermined that status.
However, having lost Karim Benzema to injury on the eve of the tournament, and now seeing Lucas Hernandez sidelined with a knee injury, their squad depth has been tested. Paul Poga and N’Golo Kante were among a number of other potential starters for France to miss Qatar entirely due to injury.
Despite those absences, Les Bleus still boast a remarkable strength in depth. Coach Didier Deschamps can call upon the likes of Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Olivier Giroud, as well as Kingsley Coman, Marcus Thuram and emerging talent Randal Kolo Muani.
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It is worth noting that Souness’ comments came under 24 hours after England’s rather unimpressive draw against the United States. That result left England top of Group B, but did not secure a knockout round place for the Three Lions yet. They now face Wales in their final group game.
Souness was also full of praise for the United States’ performance against England, going on to suggest that both sides had played well. He went on to say that criticism of England’s display was wide of the mark and that Southgate’s team had been impressive in the goalless draw.
He joked that he was so positive about England that he “won’t be able to go back to Scotland.”
England started their World Cup campaign with an impressive 6-2 thrashing of Iran, but the nature of their draw against the USA has dampened expectations somewhat.
As it stands, England are set to meet Ecuador in the next round in a repeat of their 2006 round of 16 clash. The Three Lions won that match 1-0, with David Beckham scoring the only goal in the second half.
Should England advance beyond that round, they could meet Deschamps’ World champions, and Souness’ prediction would be put to the test.
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