England take on France on for a place in the World Cup semi-final on Saturday evening, with Gareth Southgate in touching distance of a third consecutive major tournament semi-final.

That, when you think about it, would be a pretty impressive feat for a manager who continues to divide fan opinion despite the Three Lions’ relatively serene progress through to this stage.

There was heartache against Croatia in Russia four years ago in the semi-final of the World Cup and complete anguish last year as Italy emerged victorious from a dramatic Euro 2020 final penalty shootout, so England will be hoping it’s third time lucky if they’re able to advance to the final four.

But in order to reach such dizzying heights again, Southgate’s England must first overcome World Cup holders France, and the current most dangerous attacking player in football who isn’t a gigantic nordic man currently stretched across his corner sofa at home.

That’s right: Olivier Giroud.

Okay, so it’s not Olivier Giroud who is the talk of the town, rather the tournament’s top scorer Kylian Mbappe – who scored two superb goals to help advance Les Bleus past Poland in the round of 16 – and how Kyle Walker will possibly stop him.

But rather than worry about that debate, there’s a much bigger question to be answered. Yes, who makes the England vs France combined XI? Here’s who…(apologies in advance, Phil Foden, you were *this* close to making it).

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GK: Jordan Pickford – Not the strongest pair to choose between but Jordan Pickford, tiny arms aside, remains underrated in an England shirt. Hugo Lloris, while still France’s captain, has increasingly proved more of a liability than a point of strength over recent years, meaning Pickford, whose performances for Southgate have been nothing short of excellent for a long time now, gets the nod in goal.

RB: Kyle Walker – Over an out of position Jules Kounde there really is no contest here. In truth, Kieran Trippier, Reece James or Trent Alexander-Arnold would also have the nod over the Barcelona man, but it’s Kyle Walker who is the outstanding candidate. Much has been made of it pre-game but it’s true: if there’s one full-back who can keep tabs on Mbappe, it’s Walker.

CB: Raphael Varane – As good as Harry Maguire has been this tournament, he did look slightly exposed against Senegal in the round of 16, which is a bit of an ominous sign given what is to come against France. Raphael Varane brings an assured, unflustered quality to France’s backline which is invaluable in itself. He’s composed on the ball, strong in the air and the tackle and commands an otherwise inexperienced (at international level) backline with aplomb.

CB: Dayot Upamecano – Alongside Varane in the centre of defence is his partner, Bayern Munich’s Dayot Upamecano. He has been quietly superb at the back for France and his recovery pace is vital in a team that can get exposed on the break. At 24 he is by no means the perfect defender – and has mistakes in him – but when fully engaged he can be a brick wall for opposing forwards to come up against.

LB: Theo Hernandez – Luke Shaw is brilliant for England and unlucky not to find his way into this team, make no mistake about that. But AC Milan’s vice-captain Theo Hernandez is a different beast entirely. Why it took an unfortunate injury to his brother, Lucas, for Didier Deschamps to realise that the more attack-minded Theo was a much better fit for this France team is unclear, but it has proven to be every bit the blessing in disguise. He’s one of the best full-backs in Europe.

Theo Hernandez

A close call but Theo Hernandez edges Luke Shaw at left-back / Jean Catuffe/GettyImages

CDM: Declan Rice – Arguably England’s unsung hero, since his international debut no player other than Harry Kane has made more appearances for England under Southgate than Declan Rice. There are few better holding midfielders in the world and he walks into this team as the defensive anchor.

CM: Aurelien Tchouameni – Just ahead of him is the formidable presence of Aurelien Tchouameni, Real Madrid’s all-action midfielder. France have scarcely felt the absence of N’Golo Kante this tournament and the reason for that is Tchouameni’s performances in the middle of the park for Les Bleus.

CM: Jude Bellingham – Speaking of standout performances in the middle of the park, it’s time to add Jude Bellingham to the team. The rave reviews are deserved, this kid is sensational and is a future England captain. There isn’t much else to add other than: have you seen him play!? He’s 19! 19!

Jude Bellingham

Jude Bellingham makes up a dream midfield partnership with Aurelien Tchouameni / Richard Sellers/GettyImages

CAM: Antoine Griezmann – Another player going slightly under the radar has been Antoine Griezmann who, whatever his struggles at club football have been over recent years, has been a model of consistency for France. Playing in a new, deeper role as part of France’s midfield three, ‘Grizi’ has pulled the strings with intelligent passing and movement, and is aging like a fine Merlot.

CF: Kylian Mbappe – Do we have to justify the inclusion of possibly the world’s best striker? No disrespect to Callum Wilson. but Mbappe is the clear and obvious choice alongside…

CF: Harry Kane – …Sir Harold of Kane, who despite having just a single goal to his name at the World Cup, may be the most rounded striker in world football. When he isn’t smashing them in by the truckload, Kane can be found holding the ball up and creating pockets of space like nobody else – his passing range is also pretty spectacular. France will be acutely aware of his appetite to add to his tournament goal tally.

Credit: 90min.com

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