France have beaten England 2-1 in a fast-paced game to set up a semi-final World Cup clash with Morocco, who sensationally beat Portugal in the other World Cup quarter-final of the day.
Aurelien Tchouameni put France ahead with a blistering long-range shot in the 17th minute at Al Bayt Stadium on Saturday. England fans were left particularly aggrieved after calls for two suspected fouls against Bukayo Saka were dismissed in the seconds before the defending world champions opened the scoring.
It was a largely equally matched first half, but England began the second with renewed vigour. Saka was again brought down shortly after kickoff, but this time it was inside the French box, and the referee pointed to the spot.
Captain Harry Kane blasted the penalty kick into the net past his Tottenham Hotspurs’s teammate Hugo Lloris to equalise in the 54th minute in front of a 68,895-strong crowd. It was a goal which left him equal with Wayne Rooney as the joint-highest scorer for the Three Lions.
There was a chance for Gareth Southgate’s men to go ahead in the 70th minute, but Harry Maguire missed the target, putting the ball into the side of the net.
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In the 76th, Olivier Giroud found a huge gap in the English defence and levelled a massive left-foot volley. It was caught safely by Pickford, but England were not off the hook for long.
Another minute, another cross, another chance for Giroud, and France’s leading goalscorer headed home to give France the lead, sending Les Bleus fans inside the stadium into ecstasy.
England had a golden chance to equalise in the 84th minute after Theo Hernandez barged into Mason Mount inside the box, but Kane this time skied his penalty attempt into orbit.
In the end, the French press was too strong for the Three Lions to stomach, and France go on to play Morocco in the World Cup semi-final on Wednesday at Al Bayt Stadium.
“It’s extraordinary. We worked really hard defensively when we were ahead. It reminds me of Belgium in 2018,” said Giroud, referring to France’s 1-0 win in the semi-finals four years ago in Russia.
“Unfortunately we conceded the penalty. But we were able to be dangerous on a few occasions at the end of the match.You always have to believe and (Antoine) Griezmann gave me a great ball (for the goal),” added Giroud.
“I’m so proud. We pulled out a big performance tonight,” he continued. “We knew the potential of this young English generation. They’ve got it all. We had to use our mental strength to get over the line.”
“It’s difficult to find the right words,” Jordan Henderson told ITV Sport after the game.
“We gave everything in the game, with the character and the mentality to keep going and find the equaliser. I can’t say any more, really — we gave it everything.”
England manager Gareth Southgate said he did not think his side could have done any more and had given France a great game.
“I think it was just the key moments, you’re playing in a high level game where there aren’t going to be many chances created and within most of the big moments we were in the right place,” he said, while also backing Kane.
“For me, we win and lose as a team and we’ve let a couple of goals in and missed a few chances,” Southgate said. “Harry has been incredible for us, so reliable in those sorts of situations. We wouldn’t be here, but for the number of goals he scored for us,” he added.
At the stadium, France fans were happy their team booked a place in the semi-final.
“It was a close game. They did not want to play. Kylian Mbappe was marked everywhere he went,” Max Balazun told Al Jazeera.
“It’s going to be a very hard game against Morocco. They eliminated Spain and Portugal,” he said.
Hamza Mohamed contributed reporting from Al Bayt Stadium.