World Cup Sunday Preview: France begins 2018 title defense, while England faces upstart Senegal in knockouts

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Zabulon Laurent/ABACA/Shutterstock (13644182a) Antoine Griezmann of France and Kylian Mbappe of France during Tunisia v France match of the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 Education City Stadium in Doha, Qatar on November 30, 2022. World Cup Tunisia v France, Doha, Qatar – 30 Nov 2022

World Cup Sunday Preview: France begins 2018 title defense, while England faces upstart Senegal in knockouts

Round of 16: France (No. 4) vs. Poland (No. 26)

When, where: 9 a.m. CT, Al Thumama Stadium (Doha, Qatar)

How France got here: The 2018 World Cup champions finished atop the Group D standings by way of a goal differential tiebreaker after dropping a 1-0 decision to Tunisia on Matchday 3. It was a match that the French could technically afford to lose, though, as they were the first nation to clinch their knockout stage ticket after their 2-1 victory over Denmark on Saturday, Nov. 26. The French were one of just five teams to score six or more goals during group play in Qatar, alongside England (nine), Spain (nine), Brazil (six) and already-eliminated Germany (six). 

How Poland got here: Poland sneaked into the knockout stage for its first appearance since 1986 while earning its first-ever Round of 16 match during star Robert Lewandowski’s career. The Polish “White-Reds” were one late Mexican goal away against Saudi Arabia from being eliminated from group play, but nevertheless, its one win versus the Saudi Arabians and its draw against Mexico turned out to be enough to advance in the end. Poland finished second place in Group I during UEFA qualifying behind England. It needed a 2-0 victory over Sweden in the UEFA playoff finals to officially book its trip to Qatar, alongside fellow UEFA teams in Portugal and Wales, who also needed playoff finals wins in order to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.

Key Stat(s) to know: France was third in expected goals during group play (7.4) and second overall in “big chances created” (12) on offense, according to, and they easily lapped the field in Qatar with 9.7 accurate passes per match through three games – the next closest nation in that category was South Korea, with just 7.3 accurate crosses per match. Defensively the French are also laden with talent. They finished group play third overall out of 32 nations with 11.7 interceptions per match and first overall with 15 successful tackles per match. Poland, on the other hand, rank highest of the 32 nations in Qatar with six saves per game, although that’s equally due to below-average defense as much as it has been stellar goalkeeping from Wojciech Szczesny of Juventus. Poland is also just one of two countries to have allowed multiple penalty kicks during the knockout stage, often showing carelessness around the box, with one penalty kick allowed against both Saudi Arabia and Argentina in back-to-back matches. Somehow both of those penalty kicks were saved by Szczesny, but it would be tough to have that streak continue if France were to see the fortunes of a penalty kick chance here.

Player(s) to watch: Kylian Mbappé and Robert Lewandowski. The stars should rule the pitch in this Sunday Round of 16 contest, with Mbappé looking to make another knockout stage opening statement just like he did in 2018 when he earned the FIFA Man of the Match award in France’s thrilling 4-3 victory over Argentina in the Round of 16. Mbappé went on to win the FIFA World Cup Best Young Player award after becoming the second-ever teenager, next to Pelé, to score in the World Cup finals. On the other side of the pitch will be Polish megastar Robert Lewandowski of Barcelona, who, at 34 years of age, scored his first-ever World Cup goal in Poland’s victory over Saudi Arabia on Matchday 2. Lewandowski tallied nine goals and four assists for Poland during UEFA World Cup qualifying. He will need to be at his peak form to keep the France defense honest and give his nation a shot at finding the net or, at the very least, amassing solid shots on target. If Lewandowski can’t put on his superhero cape and give Poland a chance to threaten early on, things could get out of hand quickly versus France.

What to expect: France entered the 2022 World Cup with too many injuries to count, and while that certainly could hurt them in the quarterfinals and beyond, it likely shouldn’t make too much of a difference here in the Round of 16. A lack of elite-level depth could be an issue for France in a potential quarterfinal match against England, but for now, it’s Mbappé, along with the likes of teammates Olivier Giroud and Adrien Rabiot, to help lead the way for their nation’s potential third straight trip to the quarterfinals. Poland ranked 24th overall in group play out of 32 nations with just 2.8 expected goals per match, according to Football Reference, while France was second overall with 7.2 expected goals per match in its three outings. The speed, passing, depth, and youth of France should simply be too much for a thin Polish roster to overcome here in what could turn out to be a route by a motivated French side coming off its loss to Tunisia.

Match history: Although France and Poland have faced off 17 times, the two sides haven’t met on the pitch since an international friendly in 2011. The last time they faced each other in the World Cup, however, it was Poland who prevailed 3-2 over the French in 1982. France is 8-3-6 all-time against Poland, and despite a myriad of injuries entering the 2022 World Cup, the 2018 champions will still be massive favorites in this game. Robert Lewandowski’s side was barely able to advance to the knockout round with just one win in group play and a one-score goal differential tiebreaker over Mexico, but it was far from an impressive run through Group C.

World Cup history: Poland’s golden generation between 1974-1986 saw the “White-Reds” take home two third-place finishes in both 1974 and 1982, respectively, while advancing to the Round of 16 in 1986. Poland beat Brazil 1-0 in the third-place game at the 1974 World Cup and defeated France 3-2 in 1982 in its third-place playoff game. Poland was 3-6 in its past nine World Cup Matches since the end of its golden generation in 1986; however, being eliminated from group play three straight times in 2002, 2006, and 2018.

Chris Dell’s Prediction: France 2, Poland 0

Round of 16: England (No. 5) vs. Senegal (No. 18)

When, where: 1 p.m. CT, Al Bayt Stadium (Al Khor, Qatar)

How England got here: The English remained unbeaten through Group B play after earning wins over both Iran and Wales while drawing 0-0 against the USA. Manager and former English footballer Gareth Southgate deploys one of the deeper and most talented teams in the tournament, although the English have also been known as a team to play down to its competition during international matches. England originally qualified for its spot in Qatar by way of winning Group I in the UEFA World Cup qualifiers over Poland, Albania, and Hungary.

How Senegal got here: Senegal finished in second place in Group A was consecutive victories over both host nation Qatar (2-0) and Ecuador (2-1). It was a close race to World Cup qualification for Senegal, as it needed a late win against Egypt in the third round of its World Cup CAF (Confederation of African Football) tournament to advance to Qatar. Senegal has four wins, one loss, and two ties in its last seven international contests, although this will easily be the toughest international opponent it has faced in quite some time. This is only Senegal’s third-ever World Cup appearance, with its last campaign ending in a group stage exit in 2018 and, before that, a quarterfinal loss to Turkey back in 2002.

Key Stat(s) to know: England was fifth in expected goals (5.2) during group play behind a World Cup-leading three assists by veteran star Harry Kane of Tottenham and three goals from 25-year-old rising star Marcus Rashford of Manchester United. England finished tied with Spain with nine goals scored during group play and also ranked second in average possession time (66.1%) and third in accurate passes per match. Senegal ranked mostly middle-of-the-pack in most of the tracked FIFA World Cup team stats, although it did outscore Qatar and Ecuador 5-2 in its two Group A victories. Five different players accounted for Senegal’s five goals during group play as well, as the Lions of Teranga truly utilized a team effort offensively following the loss of its star striker Sadio Mane (knee injury/surgery) before the start of the 2022 World Cup.

Player(s) to watch: Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice. Much can easily be made of the heroics of both Kane and Rashford with their ability to both assist and score, respectively, but it’s the elite defensive play of England which could truly position The Three Lions to make a deep run in Qatar. A tough England defense is led by the 19-year-old midfielder Bellingham of Dortmund, who finished tied for fourth place in group play with seven tackles won on the defensive end. Rice, a midfielder, also finished tied for second overall in group play with seven interceptions on defense, as England pitched back-to-back shutouts in its final two matches and quite possibly would’ve shut out Iran on Matchday 1 if it hadn’t taken such a commanding 4-0 lead early on. Honorable mention here to Senegal’s Youssouf Sabaly here as well, who is currently tied for third overall with seven chances created so far at the 2022 World Cup.

What to expect: The pressure will remain squarely on the shoulders of the English in this Round of 16 contest, while Senegal surely will be happy with a Round of 16 appearance on its resume in 2022. The Senegalese have proven to be a feisty and efficient team on offense, and defensively they’ve played in solid form as well. Senegal was seemingly moments away from a 0-0 draw against the Netherlands on Matchday 1, but it allowed two goals in the 84th minute and 99th minute to end up losing instead. If Senegal can remain consistent on both sides of the ball, then it might just have the youth and speed to keep up with a very talented English bunch here. I expect a tightly-contested battle early on, with Senegal looking for the right moments to counterattack as England likely dominated time of possession. In the end, it’s the star power of the English’s Kane, Rashford, and company might simply too much to overcome for Senegal, although an upset victory here wouldn’t be the craziest thing in the world for a team comfortably ranked inside the top 20 in FIFA’s latest men’s rankings, which were released in October.

Match history: Sunday’s contest will be the first-ever match between Senegal and England.

World Cup history: Sunday will also be just the second-ever trip to the knockout round for Senegal, which defeated Sweden 2-1 in the Round of 16 in 2002 before losing to Turkey 1-0 in the quarterfinals. England, on the other hand, will officially begin its quest for 2018 World Cup knockout stage redemption after making the semifinals in Russia and being upset by eventual runner-up Croatia. England’s best finishes in the World Cup have been fourth place in 2018, fourth place in 1990, and of course, its 1966 title when it was the host and defeated West Germany in the finals. This is England’s 15th time qualifying from group play in 16 World Cup trips, dating back to its first-ever appearance in 1950. The only time the English didn’t advance past the group stage was in 2014 when it finished behind both Italy and Uruguay in group play.

Chris Dell’s Prediction: England 1, Senegal 1 (England wins 4-2 on PK’s)

Round of 16/Knockout Stage Schedule

Sunday, Dec. 4

  • Who: France (No. 4) vs. Poland (No. 26)
  • When, where: 9 a.m. CT, Al Thumama Stadium (Doha, Qatar)
  • Who: England (No. 5) vs. Senegal (No. 18)
  • When, where: 1 p.m. CT, Al Bayt Stadium (Al Khor, Qatar)

Monday, Dec. 5

  • Who: Japan (No. 24) vs. Croatia (No. 12)
  • When, where: 9 a.m. CT, Al Janoub Stadium (Al Wakrah, Qatar)
  • Who: Brazil (No. 1) vs. South Korea (No. 28)
  • When, where: 1 p.m. CT, Stadium 974 (Doha, Qatar)

Tuesday, Dec. 6

  • Who: Morocco (No. 22) vs. Spain (No. 7)
  • When, where: 9 a.m. CT, Education City Stadium (Doha, Qatar)
  • Who: Portugal (No. 9) vs. Switzerland (No. 15)
  • When, where: 1 p.m. CT, Lusail Iconic Stadium (Lusail, Qatar)

Quarterfinals/Knockout Stage Schedule

Friday, Dec. 9

  • Who: Netherlands (No. 8) vs. Argentina (No. 3)
  • When, where: 1 p.m. CT, Lusail Iconic Stadium (Lusail, Qatar)

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