Emmanuel Petit Exclusive: 'England Will Fail At The World Cup… The Pressure Is Too Much For Some Players'
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Emmanuel Petit smiles when I asked him if England can finally end 56 years of hurt and win the World Cup in Qatar this winter.
"I am pretty sure that England will be very difficult to beat," he says, almost sympathetically.
"But I am also pretty sure they will fail at the end of the day."
With the pain of the Euro 2020 final beginning to subside, England supporters are now looking ahead with expectation and excitement about the next opportunity of silverware.
A semi-final appearance at the last World Cup in Russia, coupled with the near miss against Italy last summer, has seen the Three Lions named as one of the favourites to win the tournament in Qatar, which gets underway on November 21.
England's odds shortened further once the dust had settled on the World Cup draw in Doha, after Gareth Southgate's side were placed in a relatively favourable group alongside the United States, Iran and one of either Scotland, Wales or Ukraine.
But former Arsenal, Chelsea and Barcelona midfielder Petit isn't convinced they can go all the way.
"It is always the same story with England. You always put them as contenders, but they always miss something in the end," added Petit, speaking on behalf of Genting Casino.
"I don’t know if it is because of the management or because of the players, but sometimes I think they can't manage the pressure they receive. When they reach the last stage, you can feel the pressure on some players. Physically, the body language. Maybe it is because of that.
"There are so many young players in the national team that are doing a great job for their clubs, like [Phil] Foden, [Bukayo] Saka, [Mason] Mount. They are great players but they are still young. They probably need more experience.
"When I remember the games in the World Cup and the Euros – in the final they were playing at home and you could feel the pressure. You could feel that it was too much for some players."
Should England win their group, they could come up against Senegal or the Netherlands in the last 16, before a potential quarter-final against defending champions France.
England have won just one of their last eight games against the French, with their last meeting ending in a 3-2 win for Les Blues in an entertaining friendly in Paris in 2017.
When asked to pick a winner between the two teams based on current form, Petit said: "It is not easy because we are the best enemies, England and France. But we are best friends as well.
"[There is] so much quality in both sides. It is very hard to say who could win that game, but I think we have a good record against England. Mentally, psychologically… the pressure, I think this is in the head of the English players. There is something they need to get over.
"To answer your question, I think France would win against England."
France are aiming to become the first team to successfully defend the World Cup since Brazil won back-to-back titles in 1958 and 1962.
Petit knows first-hand the difficulties of the retaining the most coveted trophy in football.
After experiencing the euphoria of their first World Cup triumph on home soil in 1998, which was then followed up by victory at Euro 2000, France came crashing back to earth with an early exit from the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, where they mustered just a single point from their three group games.
The World Cup winners' curse has struck three times since then; Italy, Spain and Germany all exiting at the group stage of the tournament four years after being crowned champions.
Petit, who was part of the France squad throughout the wild ride of the late nineties and early noughties, knows the size of the task facing the defending champions and is reluctant to make too many bullish predictions ahead of a tournament as exceptional as Qatar 2022.
"I know when you're a World Cup holder, it's very difficult to keep the trophy," added Petit, who won 63 caps for France between 1990 and 2003.
"Don’t forget that this World Cup is totally different to what footballers are used to playing. They are playing it mid-season. They don’t have the preparation, only one week before the start of the tournament. It is something new. Something very different for the players.
"Some teams will probably benefit from [having] more time [to prepare]. Smaller teams like Qatar, Iran… team likes this. I'm pretty sure they will prepare for weeks before the start of the World Cup. But most of the European players, they won't be able to do that with their national teams."
France's chances of success this winter are likely to depend on the Parisian phenomenon, Kylian Mbappe.
Still aged just 23, Mbappe has already scored 26 goals in 54 games for his national side and Petit is expecting an impressive tournament from the in-demand striker, who picked up the Best Young Player award at the last World Cup in Russia.
"I think [France head coach] Didier Deschamps has a bright idea of how he wants the team to play and we have the best player in the world as well, with Mbappe," added Petit.
"Mbappe, his destiny is written in gold. Everything he touches is transformed to gold."
Not quite everything.
At Euro 2020 last summer, Mbappe failed to score a single goal and missed the decisive penalty in a dramatic shootout defeat to Switzerland in the last 16 of the competition.
But he gained swift redemption by scoring the winning goal in the Nations League final against Spain in October.
Bad news for the rest of the world; France and Mbappe now look back to their best.
"They need to get the revenge for what happened in the Euros," added Petit.
"But this tournament is completely different to what players are used to… we could see a surprise."