France’s title defence continues against Poland in last-16

Mbappé and Co take on stubborn Poland as France’s title defense continues into the round of 16.

Who: France against Poland
Where: Al Thumama Stadium
When: December 4, 6:00 PM (3:00 PM GMT)

France start their World Cup final-16 as overwhelming favourites, but Poland are well equipped to derail Les Bleus’ title defense at Al Thumama Stadium.

France qualified for the knockout stage with a game to spare after two classy performances against Australia and Denmark, but lost Tunisia’s final group game after the break to several key players.

Poland went on despite a 2-0 defeat to Argentina in their final group game, carried through the opening stages by their solid defense and striker Robert Lewandowski’s contact with the ball.

France will enter the match with most of their top players having their batteries recharged, but patience, more than energy, could be key against Poland.

“They have experienced players. It is clear that Lewandowski is the star, one of the best strikers in the world,” said coach Didier Deschamps. “We shouldn’t underestimate them.”

France often struggles with compact sides that defend deep, like Poland, but Deschamps has the means to break a game wide open.

While Kylian Mbappé, who is chasing records in Qatar after already scoring seven World Cup goals before turning 24, may find it difficult to use his devastating pace against a crowded defence, Ousmane Dembele could be France’s main weapon.

The striker’s relentless dribbling, going one way before landing another, could prove difficult for the Poles, who also have to keep an eye on Olivier Giroud in the penalty area.

Wojciech Szczesny has been one of the goalkeepers of the tournament so far [ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP]

Poland, meanwhile, has reached the knockout stage for the first time in 36 years after finishing second in their group behind Argentina.

Poland has been resolute at the back, conceding only twice in the tournament. Much of that is due to the heroics of their keeper Wojcieh Szczesny, who has been arguably their best player to date. He is the only goalkeeper this World Cup to save penalties, including one from Lionel Messi.

But for all Poland’s defensive determination, they have been far from prolific in front of goal, scoring only twice this World Cup, both goals coming against Saudi Arabia. But Polish coach Czeslaw Michniewicz was furious at criticism of his team’s conservative approach.

“Those who didn’t play defensively at the World Cup watch it on TV at home. Now we are out of the group stage, so we will change our plans,” Michniewicz said ahead of Sunday’s game against France.

“Our luggage is not packed, we were not ready to go home before playing Argentina and we are not ready to go home now,” he added.

The winner of Sunday’s game will play against England or Senegal in the quarter-finals.

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