Who: France vs Poland
Where: Al Thumama Stadium
When: December 4, 6pm (15:00 GMT)
France will start their World Cup last-16 clash as overwhelming favourites but Poland are well equipped to derail Les Bleus’ title defence at Al Thumama Stadium.
France qualified for the knockout phase with a game to spare after two stylish performances against Australia and Denmark but lost the final group match to Tunisia after resting several key players.
Poland went through despite a 2-0 loss to Argentina in their final group game, carried through the opening phase by their sturdy defence and the touch of striker Robert Lewandowski.
France will enter the contest with most of their top players having recharged their batteries but patience, more than energy, might be key against Poland.
“They have experienced players. Obviously, Lewandowski is the stand-out player, one of the best strikers in the world,” said coach Didier Deschamps. “We should not underestimate them.”
France often struggle against compact sides who defend deep, such as Poland, but Deschamps has the tools to crack a game wide open.
While Kylian Mbappe, who is chasing records in Qatar after already scoring seven World Cup goals before the age of 24, might find it hard to use his devastating pace against a packed defence, Ousmane Dembele could be France’s main weapon.
The forward’s relentless dribbling, surging one way before jinking another, could be tough to handle for the Poles, who will also need to keep an eye on Olivier Giroud in the box.
Poland, meanwhile, have moved to the knockout stages for the first time in 36 years after finishing second in their group behind Argentina.
Poland have been resolute at the back, having conceded just twice in the tournament. A lot of that is down to the heroics of their keeper Wojcieh Szczesny, who has arguably been their best player so far. He is the only goalkeeper this World Cup to have saved penalty kicks, including one by Lionel Messi.
But for all of Poland’s defensive resolve, they have been far from prolific in front of goal and have scored just twice this World Cup, both goals coming against Saudi Arabia. But Poland coach Czeslaw Michniewicz bristled at the criticism his side’s conservative approach has received.
“The ones that weren’t playing defensively at the World Cup are back home watching on TV. Now we’re out of the group phase, so we will change our plans,” Michniewicz said ahead of Sunday’s game against France.
“Our luggage is not packed, we weren’t ready to go home before playing Argentina and we’re not ready to go home now,” he added.
The winner of Sunday’s match will face either England or Senegal in the quarter-finals.