It’s the defending champions, France, against the beaten Euro 2020 finalists, England, for a place in the World Cup semi-finals. Kick-off is at 7pm GMT; if it’s not over in 90 minutes extra time or possibly penalties could settle it – layering more jeopardy for fans of Lee Mack’s The 1% Club, due to follow on ITV1 at 9.30pm. Stars include Kylian Mbappé, Antoine Griezmann and the ex-Arsenal and Chelsea forward Olivier Giroud, France’s all-time top male goalscorer. His presence ensures another full night of unwanted Twitter notifications for Giroud’s TV lookalike, @Rylan: “I’m NOT Olivier Giroud. I’m not playing football today. thanks bye.”
31 meetings, 17 England wins, nine for France – but 10 of those English victories came before 1950. More recent form points the other way. Since the turn of the millennium England have won one (2-0 in a friendly under Roy Hodgson in 2015), drawn twice and lost four, with the most recent meeting a 2017 3-2 friendly defeat in Paris. The major tournament record involves two World Cup group stage wins for England – 2-0 in 1966 (Roger Hunt scoring twice) and 3-1 in 1982 (Bryan Robson twice plus Paul Mariner) – and, in the Euros, three games unbeaten for the French: a goalless draw in 1992, a Zinedine Zidane-powered 2-1 comeback in 2000, and a 1-1 2012 draw, with Samir Nasri cancelling out Joleon Lescott’s opener.
The broader history
It’s been up and down. Highs include the Entente Cordiale, Henry VIII’s 18-day Field of the Cloth of Gold fest in 1520, years of allied heroism, the co-invention of Concorde, the unifying power of the Channel Tunnel. Lows include the Seven Years’ War, the Hundred Years’ War, the Napoleonic Wars, Charles de Gaulle vetoing Britain’s EEC membership, Brexit, Liz Truss refusing to call Emanuel Macron a friend, and years of heat over culinary standards – including an English cafe’s “fish finger and cheese croissant” causing upset online this month. @JulienHoez: “Why do British people seem to have an overriding need to destroy all that is holy in this world?”
20.4 million viewers watched ITV’s England v Senegal coverage on Sunday; less than the Queen’s funeral, more than I’m A Celebrity. Fans are still uneasy over ITV having the rights: the Senegal win took the edge off the “ITV curse” but the figures remain unhealthy. Since 1998, England’s win rate for World Cup matches live on the BBC is 75% (12 of 16 games), on ITV it’s now 18.75% (three of 16). Then there’s the accidental ad break anxiety: technical glitches resulting in key moments dropping off air – most famously 2010’s Hyundai ad break replacing Steven Gerrard’s goal against the USA. Host Adrian Chiles apologised for “some interruption” to the service.
Chat starts at 6pm – core staples include a portentous pre-match package from Gabriel Clark, excess ad breaks, and Gary Neville and Ian Wright irritating Roy Keane, who himself irritated the whole of Brazil this week by deriding the players’ dancing goal celebrations. Pitchside are Laura Woods, Eni Aluko and I’m A Celebrity winner Jill Scott, who will become the first person to have been showered in rats, cockroaches and mealworms and analysed a major showpiece quarter-final on the same channel in the same fortnight. Should England score, watch out for essential shots of Keane looking unmoved in studio replays while Wright and Neville go berserk.
Behind the mic
Commentator Sam Matterface and sidekick Lee Dixon don’t get much love on social media – Matterface accused of over-talking and not being Clive Tyldesley, Dixon of sounding like he’d rather be anywhere else. Also listen out for ex-referee Peter Walton, on hand to agree with any controversial refereeing decisions. Should England win the BBC would show their semi on Wednesday, against Morocco or Portugal.
It’s Saturday night prime-time, two weeks before Christmas, but it’s not Strictly and there’s no Ant and Dec. Expect cutesy festive ads to vie for attention with Lionel Messi flogging Pepsi. World Cup traditions of barbecues and TVs rigged up in sun-kissed gardens are out, in come wintry living-room huddles or, for those with money to spend in pubs, joining what the Daily Star calls a “35 million pint booze bender”. Tonight’s match is up against A Christmas Carol on Channel 5.
Al Bayt – the Bedouin tent stadium built by modern slavery to reflect “the rich fabric of Qatar’s culture” – has so far hosted the opener, Germany’s humiliating exit and England twice: the 0-0 group stage #Southgateout draw with the US, and the win over Senegal. It also hosts the semi involving tonight’s winners. After the tournament the upper tier comes off, taking capacity from 60,000 to 32,000, to make way for some on-brand legacy projects, including a luxury shopping centre and a five-star hotel.
Wilton Sampaio, 40, from Goiás, Brazil – a Fifa-level referee since 2013. He’s not shy about chastising: in three Copa Libertadores matches last year he showed 14 yellow cards and one red, and produced five in Poland v Saudi Arabia. He was involved in setting up VAR at the 2018 World Cup, and was stung by it this time round – rejecting Saudi penalty appeals before colleagues intervened. He will be assisted by Bruno Boschilia and Bruno Pires, with VAR run by Juan Martínez, Alejandro Hernández and Neuza Back. Any omens? England also had a Brazilian referee for their 6-2 win over Iran – the more festive-sounding Raphael Claus.
It’s ripe for culture war, depending where you get your pre-match content. While French media love royal puns – L’Équipe hailing Mbappé with “God Save Notre King” – it’s less subtle here. Wednesday’s Sun led on news that they’d put an England hat, flag and scarf on a Paris waxwork of Kylian Mbappé “to the delight of expats living in the French capital”, proving Mbappé is a “secret Oui Lions fan”, and headlined it: “EET EEZ COMING ‘OME”. Expect much more of this.