Mark Sampson

Euro 2017: Mark Sampson relishing crunch quarter-final clash with France

Forty-eight hours to go and the war of words is raging, but Mark Sampson doesn’t mind.

In fact, the England boss is in his element – and convinced that the noises emerging from the French camp ahead of Sunday’s increasingly mouth-watering Euro 2017 quarter-final simply prove Les Bleues fear his Lionesses.

France coach Olivier Echouafni came out and said England “would not want to play France” – an understandable claim given the Lionesses have not beaten them since 1974, including defeats at each of the last three major tournaments.

But Sampson let rip in response, calling his counterpart “wet behind the ears”, citing Echouafni’s track record of having played three games and won just one in tournament football, while extolling his own – played 11, won nine.

And ahead of the Sunday evening showdown in Deventer, the Welshman is convinced his counterpart’s sudden chattiness in the press bodes well.

“In a strange way we’re probably shocked but a little bit pleased,” explained Sampson.

“Never before have we heard from a French manager or a French team about an English team, which tells me there’s obviously some thought that this English team are going to be a difficult opponent for them.

“We’ve got to be focused on what we need to bring to the game to win it. Whatever happens prior to the match is irrelevant really because it’s about the 22 players on the field and which group of those players can execute their game-plan.

“Which group of those players wants to win and which one can use their finishers in the best way to maybe finish the game off and get their team through to a semi-final.

“We’ll prepare as well as we can so we understand what potential team France will bring and what’s our best route to winning this football match.”

The head-to-head record may vastly favour France, but while the Lionesses were sauntering through Group D with a 100 per cent record and a goal difference of +9, Les Bleues laboured to second place in Group C.

Top spot was secured for the Lionesses when a much-changed side saw off Portugal 2-1 on Thursday evening and Sampson is adamant this his troops not only have momentum on their side, but know exactly how to counteract France’s high-pressing, possession-dominating style of play.

“The team feel confident, they feel like their belief tank has been built up even more, and we’ve got some momentum going into these knockout rounds, which will be important in these big games,” he added.

“It’s a big challenge, France have got some great individual talent across the team and they have a very clear style of play.

“We’re also aware of how we can hurt this French team, the space they’re going to leave us and how we can exploit that.

“We’ll be working on that over the next few days to make sure, come gameday, our preparation gives us that belief and confidence that we’ve put that hard work in.”

VIDEO: Interview with Mark Sampson on France quarter-final

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