France beats Poland and more in today’s World Cup Daily Diary

Frenchman Kylian Mbappé (left) and Pole Robert Lewandowski

Frenchman Kylian Mbappé (left) and Pole Robert LewandowskiPhoto: Getty Images

Today was all about England and France staring at each other for their respective opponents, with the only drama being whether or not they would be caught looking too far ahead. They certainly didn’t, engaging in an all you can do… dance that set them up for a sparkling quarterfinals on Friday. Let’s get to the nuts and bolts.

Match of the Day – France 3 – 1 Poland

Any choice would have been acceptable, if I may afford an out or an apology, as both games followed the same pattern. In the past few days, the chatter has revolved around what to do against a team that sits next to you and tries to nullify their place in midfield, thanks to USA’s struggle against such a team. One answer is, “Have Kylian Mbappé.” Unfortunately, that’s only available to one team in this tournament.

It’s obviously more complicated than that, but not by much. Poland did their usual Poland thing which consisted of packing five in midfield and hopefully limiting Antoine Griezmann’s access to the ball while both Mbappé and Dembele stayed on the outside. The Poles actually looked a bit more aggressive, admittedly a low bar for them, on the rare occasion they got the ball and possibly had the best chances in the first half. Hugo Lloris had to make a great save to avoid falling shockingly from behind and in addition Raphael Varane cleared the goal line.

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But that’s about it with Poland’s threat, because they are Poles. And you can plan to keep Mbappe wide out or load him up with extra defenders and he’ll still open you up. To open the gate for France, he had to pull defenders just enough to find a line-up to pass a through ball to Olivier Giroud, which is the unheralded part of his game:

Again, it’s beyond simplistic and cliche to say that goals change games, but when the team that’s the favorite and faced a low block all night scores first, it turns everything on its head. Poland could no longer simply persevere and hope. That means more space for France, which means Mbappé has more space, which means…

The second goal, which is unfair and rude, got the most applause, but the first one is also high on the stupid level. You shouldn’t be able to beat a goalkeeper so easily at the near post, especially one who has had the Szczesny tournament up to this point. Poland probably thought they had that covered for a moment as it looked like Mbappé had waited too long and narrowed his options. Aside from always having an out, he always has an option. I think every player always has an option when “Release a Hadoken of a shot with minimal backlift” is in their holster.

If France are worried, and it’s hard to say if they are, it’s because Poland have occasionally been able to attack them down the right flank, where Jules Kounde looked a little out of place at right-back. England certainly aren’t lacking in options down the left flank of their attack. But then, when you’ve got No. 10 in your attack, are you ever that worried?

Other results: England 3 – 0 Senegal

It will wash away after the final score, but England didn’t look good ahead of the lead and like Poland, Senegal had the best chances at 0-0. Both teams will wonder for a while what would have happened if they could have finished. On such edges…

Similar to France, similar to Argentina and even very similar to the USA, England faced a disciplined opponent whose first, second and third goals were to defend and cut space. But while France and Argentina demanded otherworldly individual brilliance, England went the route of otherworldly team brilliance for their first goal:

The US couldn’t, but the US doesn’t have Harry Kane or Jude Bellingham. Bellingham switches off a little further and drops a little deeper, Kane does his thing where he dips deeper but behind the opponent’s midfield line. The England defense slides a ball through the lines to Kane, who can then flick a pass at the oncoming Bellingham, whose touch is so silky soft your knees just disappear and he can control it at full speed and run at the Senegalese defence. Henderson follows him through the middle, both goal sides of the midfielders who were tasked with tagging them and preventing them from getting passes from the England defence. Kane turns the game completely on her. .

Similar to France, the game turns when England take the lead as Senegal couldn’t wait. While in the US, Jesus Ferreira only occasionally attempts this and also has a definitive case where he is “Jesus Ferreira” and not Harry Kane. The US midfield wasn’t determined enough to drop lower or further to try to either lose their marks or make room for their forwards to dive into. And they just don’t have that talent. So you get what we got here last week (or Saturday so to speak). That’s how you become England, prance into the quarters and look like a real favourite.

Senegal weren’t great when it came to taking the initiative in this tournament as England really only had to focus on Ismaila Sarr. They were taken apart fairly easily for gates two and three:

Life is easier when you have Jude Bellingham dribble through an entire midfield.

England-France are almost too good for a quarter-final but that’s our treat. England’s strength, the Rice-Bellingham axis in midfield, is exactly where France have suffered some injuries and are a bit inexperienced as a result. Griezmann makes them dangerous but he also leaves them a bit light in the middle. But they also have Mbappé, the answer to whatever hits the board.

goal of the day

It’s a tie between England’s first, a symphony of passage and movement, and Mbappé’s third. We’ve already posted both, so you can decide:

Did VAR mess something up?

Not today, Satan.

Did FIFA/Qatar screw up?

No, but now it feels like a good time that broadcasting every game doesn’t need a shot of Gianni Infantino in his damn suite, sitting in his damn plush chair every goddamn time. It’s a reminder of how we ended up in this hell of a tournament. Remember, originally FIFA thought they could host this thing in Qatar in the summer because all the people voting on it not only pocketed millions of dollars in bribes (allegedly) but also didn’t have to worry about the heat. They went from their air-conditioned hotel suites to their air-conditioned sedans to their air-conditioned skybox at the stadium and back again. Seeing Infantino sitting in one at every game he’s in is pretty much the craziest picture of how something like this ridiculous tournament could have happened, because the guys making decisions are just the guys in this one Seated in such a chair for part of the tournament stadium, only counting people seated in this type of chair in that part of the stadium.

Did Alexi Lalas say something stupid?

After two weeks, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish words that Lalas is saying more than just hearing his voice as a constant drone. It’s annoying that Fox’s reporting has tried to emulate the most annoying habit of their NFL coverage, which is not only having their analysts narrate reruns (not their job), but also trying to sound funny and cool while doing it. Lalas’ trick today, while making post-game highlights of France’s win, was to try and tease his power rankings to follow suit as if we were waiting for them at the same tier of the CFP rankings. Power rankings are a bane on all sports reporting, even more so when a fool like Lalas authors them and justifies their change based on a game or half, and even more so when he treats them like a last pill on the state of the game game today. NO ONE GIVES A SHIT.