AL THUMAMA, Qatar -- France cruised into the World Cup quarterfinals in Qatar with Olivier Giroud and Kylian Mbappe claiming the goals to overcome Poland in a 3-1 win. Robert Lewandowski's stoppage-time penalty -- taken twice because of keeper Hugo Lloris moving too soon to save the first spot-kick -- was a late consolation for the Poles.
Poland, which had claimed a round-of-16 spot ahead of Mexico on goal difference, had no answer to the world champions' attacking talents, despite going close to opening the scoring in the first half. But after making a slow start to the game, France made easy work of the tie in the end to book a quarterfinal matchup against England or Senegal.
1. Giroud does it again as France reach quarterfinals
Olivier Giroud is now out on his own as France's men's all-time leading scorer after setting the world champions on their way to a round-of-16 victory against Poland. The 36-year-old AC Milan forward's first-half goal, when he latched onto Kylian Mbappe's pass before hitting a left-foot shot beyond Polish keeper Wojciech Szczesny, was his 52nd for Les Bleus and moved him clear of Thierry Henry as his country's most productive scorer.
France have produced some incredible attacking talent over the years -- Henry, Zinedine Zidane, Nicolas Anelka, Michel Platini, Jean-Pierre Papin, to name a few. Giroud has more than all of them yet continues to fight for the recognition that his achievements deserve. But even though the former Arsenal and Chelsea striker is under-rated by so many, Didier Deschamps knows exactly what he brings to the France team, especially now that Karim Benzema's injury has ruled him out of the tournament. Beyond his goals, Giroud brings experience, maturity, the ability to link play and hold the ball up, and a wise head for the younger forwards around him.
No matter whom France face in the last eight -- England or Senegal -- Giroud will pose as big a problem as the incredible Mbappe. Every team is frightened of Mbappe's pace and goal threat, but give Giroud a chance anywhere in the penalty area and he will take it. Any opponent that underestimates Giroud could see their World Cup dreams extinguished by him.
2. France reach last eight, but injuries could stop them from winning it
Defending champions France have made it into the quarterfinals without coming close to hitting top gear so far in the competition, so that is a good sign for Deschamps and his players in that it seems there is more to come. But maybe there isn't, and perhaps all of France's injuries to key players are beginning to hit the team's ability to reach the heights they are capable of.
Deschamps was already without long-term absentees Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante when he named his squad for Qatar, and losing those two midfielders, who were key figures at Russia 2018, was always going to be tough to overcome. But to also lose Ballon d'Or winner Karim Benzema and full-back Lucas Hernandez after arriving in Qatar has hurt France even harder. Benzema, for one, is irreplaceable, despite Olivier Giroud's impressive performances as his replacement. So having lost two of the world's best midfielders and 2022's most in-form striker, France are limping into the last eight.
They have made it this far without facing a top team, but now they are at the business end of the tournament, the injuries to their best players will really begin to bite. It could end up being the difference between retaining the World Cup or losing to the first good team they face.
3. Poland: good striker and keeper, but not much else
Poland made it into the knockout stages for the first time since 1986 at this World Cup, but this meeting with France always looked likely to signal the end of the road for Czeslaw Michniewicz's team. Quite simply, Poland are nothing more than a very ordinary team that happens to possess a world-class striker in Robert Lewandowski and a top-class goalkeeper in Wojciech Szczesny.
Without Barcelona's Lewandowski and Juventus keeper Szczesny, it is difficult to see Poland even qualifying for the World Cup, never mind progressing from the group stage. So the problem facing the Poles now is how they adjust to a future without Lewandowski who, at 34, is highly unlikely to be around at the 2026 World Cup.
He might not even make it to Euro 2024. Poland aren't alone in relying in one superstar. Wales are the same with Gareth Bale, and even Argentina would struggle to succeed at this World Cup without Lionel Messi. Poland are a big football nation with a proud history, but unless they can unearth a new Lewandowski, the future doesn't look bright.
France: Hugo Lloris 7; Jules Kounde 6, Raphael Varane 7, Dayot Upamecano 7, Theo Hernandez 6; Adrien Rabiot 6, Aurelian Tchouameni 6; Ousmane Dembele 6, Antoine Griezmann 6, Olivier Giroud 8, Kylian Mbappe 9.
Poland: Wojciech Szczesny 7; Matty Cash 7, Kamil Glik 6, Bartosz Bereszynski 6, Jakub Kiwior 6; Grzegorz Krychowiak 6, Jakub Kaminski 6, Sebastian Szymanski 6, Piotr Zielinski 6, Przemyslaw Frankowski 6; Robert Lewandowski 7.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Kylian Mbappe
The France forward now has five goals at Qatar 2022 after bagging two against Poland. He looked to be at a different level to the rest of the players on the pitch at times.
WORST: Ousmane Dembele
The France winger has so much pace and talent, but his final ball in key areas lets him down too often.
Highlights and notable moments
An assist from Mbappe set up Giroud for the goal that took the veteran to the top of France's all-time goal scorers list.
GIROUD 🇫🇷— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 4, 2022
Take another look at the goal that made him the all-time leading scorer for the France men's national team pic.twitter.com/ud7UqwZKP4
Mbappe then followed up to give France a two-goal cushion and put the game out of reach for the Poles.
It was only a matter of time 🔥— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 4, 2022
Mbappé makes it 2-0 for France 🎯 pic.twitter.com/1vA2MFjR82
Kylian Mbappé has now scored 16 goals in his last 14 caps for France. Two incredible finishes today. 5 goals already in this World Cup. 9 in 11 World Cup matches overall. 33 goals in 63 caps and he is still only 23. Just incredible!— Julien Laurens (@LaurensJulien) December 4, 2022
After the match: What the players and managers said
Quotes to come...
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
- Giroud, at 36 years and 3 months, is the oldest player to score in a World Cup knockout-stage match since Cameroon's Roger Milla (at 38 years, 1 month) scored two goals against Colombia in the 1990 round of 16.
- Hugo Lloris ties Lilian Thuram for the most appearances for the French men's senior national team (142).
- Olivier Giroud overtakes Thierry Henry for the most goals for France's men's senior international team (52).
- Kylian Mbappé (FRA): eight career World Cup goals, passes Pelé for the most by a men's player in the competition before turning 24 years old
- Since the 2018 World Cup, Kylian Mbappé leads all players in goal involvements (10).
- This is Kylian Mbappé's third multigoal World Cup game. This only players with more multigoal World Cup games are Just Fontaine (FRA), Miroslav Klose (GER), Ronaldo (BRA), and Sandor Kocsis (HUN). Each have four.
France: The French advance to the quarter-finals and will face the winner of England vs. Senegal.
Poland: With the loss, Lewandowski & Co. are out of the 2022 World Cup and will look ahead at UEFA Euro qualifiers in the spring.