Despite conceding a goal after just nine minutes, France overpowered Australia on Matchday 1. Prior to the tournament, their second game, against Denmark had looked likely to be the toughest test for Les Bleus, and though France took the lead, that advantage lasted only seven minutes. However, a second goal by Kylian Mbappé sealed the three points for the reigning champions. With a place in the Round of 16 already assured, coach Didier Deschamps made nine changes for the meeting with Tunisia, and it showed, with France losing 1-0. France topped Group D even without the services of five potential first-choice players — Messrs Benzema, Pogba, Kanté, Kimpembe, and Lucas Hernandez. Despite these absentees, Les Bleus averaged 58.7% possession in the group and registered 17 shots on target while allowing only six.
Poland’s opening game with Mexico looked likely to have a big say in who joined France in the knockout stages, but a tense encounter ended 0-0, leaving everything to play for. During their opener, Robert Lewandowski saw his penalty saved, but he finally scored his first ever World Cup goal to confirm a 2-0 victory over Saudi Arabia, which moved them to the top of Group C after two games. The Eagles still faced a tense evening in the decisive round of games, and were no match for Argentina, suffering a 2-0 reversal. Nevertheless, their goal difference was one goal superior to Mexico’s, granting Poland a first appearance in the last 16 of a World Cup since 1986. Poland progressed despite only having an average of 34% of the ball, producing five shots on target, while allowing 21.
Having experimented with a back three in recent months, Deschamps has committed to four at the back and will either opt for 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3. Polish manager Czeslaw Michniewicz seems likely to stick to the 4-4-2 formation he’s used throughout the competition, despite having experimented with numerous systems in qualifying. Goals have been at a premium in recent head-to-head meetings between these two sides, with only four goals in the past five encounters. France ranked fourth in the world, have won eight of those meetings, 26th-ranked Poland have won three, and there have been five draws. The winner of this match will face England, or Senegal, in the Quarter-final.