France vs. Poland
How to watch: 10 a.m. Eastern. Fox, Telemundo, Peacock.
That France has the deepest pool of talent in world soccer is no secret, least of all to the other teams in Qatar. How deep? Nine other teams at the World Cup included French-born players on their final squad lists. Four of those teams advanced to the knockouts.
That wealth of homegrown talent has proved to be a valuable asset for Coach Didier Deschamps of France. He lost the World Cup-winning midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté in the weeks leading to the tournament and striker Karim Benzema, the newly crowned world player of the year, once the team arrived. Yet France has barely missed a beat.
Its performances have been, at times, dominant. Stunned by an Australia goal nine minutes into its opening game, France replied with four of its own (and could have had a couple more). When Kylian Mbappé gave the French a lead in their second match only to see Denmark promptly respond, he simply scored again, and France won again.
France is trying to become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to defend the World Cup trophy, and there is, for now, no reason to doubt that it will make a deep run. None of that is assured, of course: If France can get past Poland today, potential roadblocks include England and Spain.
For now, the focus for France is Poland, and running out all the starters who sat in its final group game: a 1-0 defeat to Tunisia.
Poland emerged from the group stage on the strength of a scoreless tie against Mexico and a 2-0 victory against Saudi Arabia, but it would be a stretch to say the Poles inspired anyone with their play. Poland was shut out twice, despite fielding one of the world’s most prolific strikers in Robert Lewandowski, and only advanced on a tiebreaker.
If Lewandowski’s teammates can feed him a chance, or three, he could be a game changer against France. That first bit, though, will be the hard part.