Reigning champions France reach Qatar World Cup quarters

DOHA, 5 Dec 2022:

Although reigning World Cup champions France prevailed over Poland 3-1 in soccer action at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha yesterday, they had a rather tough time against the hard-driving Poles – who battled valiantly but fruitlessly trying to avoid being knocked out of further play.

After a tough time in the early going before some 41,000 spectators, Olivier Giroud finally managed to get Les Bleus on the board just one minute before the break on a pass from Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappe – which he managed to slide right into the corner to beat Polish goaltender Wojciech Szczesny.

The tally was the striker’s 52nd career international goal for his side, breaking Thierry Henry’s record.

No country has won consecutive World Cups since Brazil did so in 1958 and 1962. Italy had done the same earlier in 1934 and 1938, the only other country ever to repeat.

Overall, yesterday’s contest was pretty evenly matched, despite the final score, even though the much improved Poland squad had had difficulties against its group phase opponents, against whom they had played conservative ball, taking few risks.

But in the knockout match, the Poles played aggressively and went all-out for the win.

Robert Lewandowski, who plays for Barcelona, tried a powerful shot on goal in the first half that was saved by French team captain Hugo Lloris, and it wasn’t until the 74th minute that the defending World Cup champs were able to notch their second tally of the evening on a shot by Mbappe that was shunted to him by Giroud and Dembele.

It was Mbappe again in the 91st minute for his fifth tally – and his second double – of this year’s World Cup, a brilliant curling shot into the top corner after a pass from Marcus Thuram for the 3-0.

Lewandowski scored a consolation goal on the very last shot of the match in stoppage time, a penalty kick that he was allowed to repeat because Lloris – who made a good save on the initial lacklustre shot – was ruled to have come off his line too early.

France won the World Cup four years ago in Russia, and although in UEFA Nations League action they had seemed to waver, now coach Didier Deschamps seems to have gotten the team back on track, despite being without key midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, as well as Presnel Kimpembe and forward Christopher Nkunku.

With the win, Poland go home and France move on the quarterfinals.

England blanked Senegal 3-0 and also moved into the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarterfinals.

The English struggled to find their groove during the first half hour of play before 66,000 spectators at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, but finally Jordan Henderson was handed an excellent set-up by Jude Bellingham for the 1-0 in the 38th minute and then Harry Kane scored in first half stoppage time to put the team up by two.

After play resumed, it was Bukayo Saka notching the third tally of the evening and, in effect, putting the match beyond reach of the Senegalese – who did manage to get several early chances, swiping at least a couple of erratic forward passes from Harry Maguire and John Stones.

On the first occasion, Maguire’s pass was intercepted and sent to Ismaila Sarr, who fired a close-range shot that could have changed the team’s fortunes but went over the net. And then Dia took advantage of a mistake by Saka, firing one that goaltender Jordan Pickford blocked with an outflung arm, but sending the English into conniptions, although no tally resulted for the African squad.

Admittedly, the Senegalese were playing without their star, Sadio Mane, who was removed from the play list even before the first match due to injury.

When Henderson scored, the English team settled down, however, with team captain Harry Kane drawing off the Senegalese for Bellingham to send it from the box over to Henderson for the score.

With the win, Senegal will head for home while the English – who made it to the semifinals at the Russia 2018 World Cup – will go up against defending champions France in the quarterfinals in what is sure to be highly anticipated match.