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Gareth Southgate says mentality is key as England prepare to fight reigning World Cup winners France for a semi-final spot at a third successive major tournament.

Having comfortably topped their group and swatted aside Senegal with ease in the round of 16, the team are now gearing up for a blockbuster quarter-final clash on Saturday evening.

Millions of fans across the land will be tuning into the mouthwatering World Cup encounter at Al Bayt Stadium, where the victor will return next Wednesday to take on Morocco or Portugal for a place in the December 18 finale.

Holders France are favourites but England are a different beast to 2018, when they surpassed expectations to reach the final four at a tournament where the main goal had simply been to win a knockout match.

Mbappe (left) is the star man for Deschamps and France
Mbappe (left) is the star man for Deschamps and France (Peter Byrne/PA)

Southgate’s side went on to reach the European Championship final last year and now they are looking to beat an elite nation in a knockout match on foreign soil for the first time to reach yet another semi-final.

“In terms of our experiences, I think those big matches for the team are important reference points, really,” the England boss said.

“They’ve had to come through many different ways of winning games.

“Some defeats that have hurt but we’ve learned a lot from and I think they prepare you for nights like tomorrow, where you’ve got to produce the very best version of yourselves.

“The mentality is key, really. There’s the belief and the mentality that we deserve to be there and we’re ready to fight France for that place in the semi-final.”

Southgate believes France are the “very best” in Qatar and staff began preparations at 9am on Monday – just six hours after getting back from the Senegal match – as they look to stifle Kylian Mbappe and his star-studded team-mates.

The England boss is focused on success but there was a moment of levity in the pre-match press conference when asked if he wants revenge against Didier Deschamps after Chelsea beat Aston Villa in the 2000 FA Cup final.

“Well, I know revenge is a dish best served cold but that would be pretty freezing, wouldn’t it?” Southgate said with a laugh.

“We were underdogs that day. Chelsea had phenomenal experience in their team of big matches – Marcel Desailly, George Weah, Gianfranco Zola, Didier – so a bit of a mismatch, really.

Didier Deschamps (right) got the better of Southgate's Aston Villa in the 2000 FA Cup final
Didier Deschamps (right) got the better of Southgate’s Aston Villa in the 2000 FA Cup final (Rebecca Naden/PA)

“In terms of preparation for the games, I’m really excited about the game, I’m excited about the challenge.

“It’s been a brilliant game to prepare for. You want those games of tactical detail and that stretch your team.

“The work is done now, really. We’re going to go back and watch the other quarter-finals and enjoy that.

“Little bit of work tomorrow in the morning on some final details but we’re ready for the game. I think the players are ready and we’re really looking forward to.”

Southgate has a 25-man squad to select from against France after Raheem Sterling returned to Qatar on Friday morning and trained with the squad.

The 28-year-old did not feature in last weekend’s 3-0 victory against Senegal due to concerns over his family’s wellbeing following a break-in at his home in Surrey that saw him head back to England.

“I’ve spoken briefly with Raheem at training and then need to pick up with him again later because we’ve other things going on,” Southgate said. “But great that he’s back with us, first and foremost.

“He wanted to train today. Normally we wouldn’t do that having been on a long flight, but it was a lighter session so no risk with doing that.

“He’ll be involved tomorrow but what that looks like we’ve yet to decide because we’ve not been able to see him on the training pitch, so really hard to tell what his level is.

“He’s not been with us since, in terms of on the pitch, since Saturday, so we’ll just have to assess that. But really pleased he’s back and of course he is an important player for us.”