Is football, for the second time this year, coming home? (Picture: AP)
England is gearing up for tonight’s clash with France – with millions set to watch the battle unfold.
The winner of the game between Gareth Southgate’s side and Didier Deschamps’ squad will go into the semi-finals in Qatar with every chance of lifting the 18-carat solid gold trophy.
Thousands of fans will cheer on England in Al Khor and millions more back home are expected to watch on TV, with pubs and bars readying themselves for another bumper evening.
All eyes are on England’s defensive line – and how the Three Lions will keep Kylian Mbappe at bay.
Psychic Uri Geller has even got involved in the action and has vowed to use his mind powers to influence the game.
In England, televisions will be blaring and beers flowing as the match kicks off at 7pm.
The match could even boost beer sales by six million pints, according to a trade body.
The British Beer and Pub Association hopes the 7pm kick-off time for the Three Lions’ clash with France will encourage punters to visit their local early.
Pubs are expected to make huge profits this evening (Picture: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
It believes the game can deliver a £26 million boost to the sector, with overall pint sales estimated at 28 million for Saturday.
Emma McClarkin, British Beer and Pub Association chief executive, said: ‘This match’s Saturday-night slot will hopefully deliver good trade for pubs, with people able to head to their local early to secure a spot and cheer on the Three Lions.
‘The World Cup has been providing a boost to beer sales and if England manage to see off France this will hopefully continue.
‘Pubs need this as they continue to weather what was already set to be a difficult winter, with rising energy costs and the cost-of-living crisis and their outlook further dampened by news of rail strikes over the usually busy festive period.
The Saturday fixture will allow thousands to start drinking early without the fear of work hangovers (Picture: Getty Images)
‘Whilst the tournament won’t be able to make up for an extremely difficult trading environment, we’re hoping it will at least provide some short-term uplift to the industry and continue to lift the spirits of the nation.’
The contest on the pitch tonight will not be the only clash, with some families preparing for the ‘light-hearted rivalry’ that only comes with divided national loyalties.
Alexia Leachman, 48, grew up in Cardiff but is also French and now lives in Uzes in the south of France.
Her two daughters, Lila, 12, and Sofia, eight, are both English, however, and big football fans also.
Alexia Leachman (left) with her England-supporting daughter Lila, 12 (Picture: PA)
‘I’m Welsh but I’m also French, I’m dual national, so I feel very French and I feel very Welsh, but I do not feel English at all,’ Ms Leachman, author of Clear Your Head Trash, said.
‘The match is going to be interesting because they’re all going to be supporting England.’
Meanwhile, Tom Thewlis, 30, from Oxford, has been enjoying some email-based stick from his French uncle, who believes the daunting prospect of France’s Kylian Mbappe – the tournament’s top scorer – will prove too much for England right-back Kyle Walker.
‘My uncle is a bit of a joker. He’s always kind of put the boot in, particularly when we were knocked out in the semis in Russia (2018)’ he said.
Tom Thewlis has ‘light-hearted banter’ with his French uncle (Picture: PA)
‘He’s already been emailing me this week talking to me about how Kylian Mbappe’s going to have the last laugh over Kyle Walker, all that kind of thing, and just sort of a general exchange of banter.’
Mr Thewlis – who goes to see his French family every year – described the situation as a ‘light-hearted rivalry’ and said it adds a bit of extra meaning to a game which he is ‘quietly confident’ about.
Gareth Southgate has been more loud in his faith in the Three Lions and their ability to take on their opponents tonight.
He said: ‘In terms of our experiences, I think those big matches for the team are important reference points.
All eyes are on England’s defensive line ahead of tonight’s match (Picture: PA)
‘They’ve had to come through many different ways of winning games, some defeats that have hurt but that we’ve learned a lot from and I think they prepare you for nights like tomorrow where you have got to produce the very best version of yourselves.
‘The mentality is key really. The belief that we deserve to be there and we are ready to fight France for that place in the semi-final.’
But Southgate insisted the squad must produce the ‘very best version’ of themselves if they are to keep their dreams alive by overcoming the reigning World Cup champions.
Extra police officers will be deployed in London given large swathes of English and French football fans are expected to flock to the city.
Downing Street said Rishi Sunak wishes England the ‘best of luck’ and he will watch the game with friends and colleagues at the Prime Minister’s countryside retreat, Chequers.
Elsewhere, the build-up saw singer Chesney Hawkes join forces with members of the England band to perform in the Souq Waqif market place in Doha.
Hawkes was dubbed a ‘lucky charm’ by the England players after he performed his chart hit The One and Only on the pitch during the interval of their 3-0 group stage win over Wales.
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