FIFA Men's World Cup
France looks poised to become only third back-to-back World Cup champion
FIFA Men's World Cup

France looks poised to become only third back-to-back World Cup champion

Updated Dec. 4, 2022 6:26 p.m. ET

DOHA, Qatar — Only two countries in World Cup history have ever gone back-to-back as champions. The first to repeat was Italy (1934 and 1938). The next was Brazil (1958 and 1962).

The way things are going right now, it looks like France could be next.

Les Bleus won it all four years ago in Russia, and after a masterful 3-1 victory over Poland at Al Thumama Stadium on Sunday evening, Didier Deschamps' squad seems poised to raise another trophy in exactly two weeks.

France doesn't need Karim Benzema, its Ballon d'Or winning striker who was ruled out before the World Cup began with an injury he sustained during a training session. It doesn't need Paul Pogba or N'Golo Kante, star central midfielders who played critical roles four years ago but missed the trip to Qatar with injuries, either.


Any nation would give up their right leg and probably their right arm to have that kind of talent and depth on a World Cup roster. And they'd likely struggle severely without it. But not this team.

That's because France has Olivier Giroud, a 36-year-old who replaced Benzema and scored the opening goal in the 45th minute. Kylian Mbappé slotted a dangerous pass to the 6-foot-2 striker in the box who caught the ball a bit behind his body and maneuvered himself to slip his shot just out of reach of Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny with his left foot.

[Mbappe is already one of the World Cup's all-time greats]

Giroud's goal made him the new all-time scoring leader in France history with 52 goals, passing legendary forward Thierry Henry's record that has stood for the past 13 years.

"Olivier has always been an important player, and four years ago he didn't score, but he was a very important player for us, and today we're seeing his quality," Deschamps said. "He was often criticized, but he's managed to remain strong and break the record. A very difficult record to break."

As Deschamps said this, Mbappé walked into the press conference room. The French manager looked right at his young star and said: "And here's another guy beside me who may break it one day."

France's Olivier Giroud scores goal vs. Poland

Everybody laughed, but that's because it's true. Mbappé scored two brilliant goals against Poland. The first was a superb shot in the 74th minute into the top left corner of the goal. It was a strike so unstoppable that not a single defender closed in on him to shut it down. His second goal came during stoppage time. He received a pass from Marcus Thuram and sent a rocket flying into the upper right corner. This time, Polish defenders attempted pressure, but it didn't work out.

"Kylian can make a difference on his own in a match," Deschamps said. "He always plays with such joy, and we all want to share these smiles with him. France needed a great Kylian Mbappé tonight and they got one."

Mbappé is 23 years old and exudes as much confidence and talent as he does selflessness.

On the former, he currently leads the Golden Boot race in Qatar with five goals in four games. His two against Poland ties him with Lionel Messi for nine career World Cup goals, which is more than Cristiano Ronaldo, who has eight. To put this further into perspective, 35-year-old Messi is playing in his fifth World Cup and has yet to win it all; Mbappé is playing in his second and is looking for a second title in a row.

On the latter, Mbappé has been so focused on winning another World Cup that he's skipped through postgame interviews with reporters. He even offered to pay the fines that FIFA was going to hand the French Football Federation for his absences. When he arrived at Sunday's press conference after being named Man of the Match, Mbappé took a moment to apologize and explain.

"It's nothing personal, I have nothing against journalists, I just needed to focus on the tournament and my football," Mbappé said. "And when I want to concentrate on something, that's the way I function.

"This is the competition of my dreams, and I'm delighted to be here. I've been preparing for this tournament all throughout the season, physically and mentally. I wanted to be ready for the tournament and I am, and so far things are going well. But we're a long way from the ultimate objective, which is to win the World Cup. And that's the most important thing now."

Kylian Mbappé scores to give France a 2-0 lead

Later, he was asked about winning the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball, but shook his head at the question before saying, "If I win, I'll be happy, but that's not why I'm here. I'm here to win the World Cup."

He will very likely do just that if he and his French teammates keep putting on a show. And it's funny, too, because heading into the tournament nobody thought Les Bleus had a chance to win again.

Injuries were among the many reasons. As was recent history, which proves that World Cup champions aren't much of a threat four years later. Take France in 1998, Italy in 2006, Spain in 2010 and Germany in 2014. None advanced past the group stage at the next tournament.

France has not fallen into that trap. Sure it lost that final group stage match 1-0 to Tunisia, but Deschamps rested some starters, including Mbappé. Poland's Robert Lewandowski converted a penalty kick in stoppage time at Al Thumama, and there were a few other nervy moments for French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.

Otherwise, Les Bleus, who face England in what is sure to be a magical quarterfinal matchup between European powerhouses, are cruising through this World Cup.

France vs. Poland Highlights

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Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of "Strong Like a Woman," published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.


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