For a country that sent its king and queen to the guillotine France has an enduring and surprising fascination for the monarchy. So it is no surprise that Saturday’s quarter-final between England and France is being seen as a royal duel between King Kylian and Prince Harry.
After Sunday’s matches set the scene for a battle between the two countries – historic rivals on and off the pitch despite the Entente Cordiale – Eurosport carried a picture of Harry Kane and Kylian Mbappé and declared: “The quarter-final on Saturday will have an unusual flavour: for the first time in history the French team and the English team will cross swords in a direct elimination match”.
France Info headlined with France meeting its “best enemy” and “Prince Harry” referring to Kane making the “French kingdom tremble”.
No reference to the Anglo-French rivalry is complete without a reference to “perfidious Albion” and France Info did not disappoint. “Between France and England, [football] history dates back more than a century to the first match on 1 November 1906 [which England won 15-0],” it said.
“Since then, Perfidious Albion have won 23 of the 40 official duels, with 11 victories for the French and six draws. But 16 of these successes were achieved before the war … In the 21st century, Les Bleus have won four of the six encounters, with one defeat and one draw. And while this match has become a European classic, it will be the first time the two nations have faced each other in an international tournament’s decisive match.”
L’Équipe carried a photo of Mbappé with the headline: “God Save Notre [Our] King”. The French crown should have been shared with Olivier Giroud, who became France’s leading goalscorer after Sunday’s match against Poland when he recorded his 52nd and surpassed the 13-year-old record set by Thierry Henry.
The regional newspaper Sud-Ouest asked if Les Bleus were “prêts à manger du lion”, ready to eat the Lions, while Le Figaro said facing England could be France’s first serious challenge. “For those who thought that the French team’s journey so far was too easy, it is possible that they will change their minds next Saturday, on the occasion of a quarter-final between Les Bleus and England, which is as explosive as it is attractive .
“The two teams have not faced each other since 13 June 2017, when Didier Deschamps’ men got the better of the Three Lions in a friendly match at the Stade de France. But in five years, a lot of water has flowed under the bridges of the Seine and the Thames. Since the start of the competition, both teams have impressed … this means that both Les Bleus and the Three Lions will have plenty of confidence going into the quarter-final.”
Many French commentators relayed remarks from across the Channel indicating admiration – some saw fear – of Mbappé. The football website maxifoot.fr said he was “already causing “deep concern” in the England camp.
England’s Phil Foden told TF1 that Mbappé is “the player of the tournament until now” and his teammate Jordan Henderson told Belgian journalists he was “probably the best player in the world right now, with Messi”. French journalists relayed how Sky Sports had referred to “the Mbappé threat”.
King Mbappé, who has earned the French Football Federation a €10,000 fine from Fifa for refusing to speak to the press, broke his silence after Sunday’s victory to declare: “My sole aim is to win the World Cup … and the next match. It’s the only thing I dream about.”
In the other realm, Prince Harry has the same goal.