Most of France’s talk ahead of their last-16 clash with Poland has been about how Les Bleus will handle Robert Lewandowski, but the defending champions are well aware there is much more to the Poles than their big-name striker.
Lewandowski is indeed a deadly weapon up front, but Poland are a very compact side with another major asset at the other end of the pitch in keeper Wojciech Szczesny, who has already stopped two penalties.
Across his career, Szczesny has saved 26 of 87 penalties and it is safe to say that France will be desperate to avoid a shootout at the Al Thumama stadium on Sunday.
“They’ve had to defend a lot in the group stage and they defended very well. Actually they love it, but they’re not just a defensive team – just look at who they have up front,” coach Didier Deschamps told a news conference on Saturday.
“But there’s more. They have a backbone of players with great international experience, with Kamil Glik, Piotr Zieliński, Grzegorz Krychowiak and some youngsters who have shown they were up to the task. They deserve to be here.”
Poland have only had five shots on target in three games, but three of them came from Lewandowski, who only needs half a chance to find the back of the net.
France’s ideal scenario will be to contain the Barcelona forward and avoid ending the game on penalties, which are certainly not keeper Hugo Lloris’s cup of tea.
Lloris, who will equal Lilian Thuram’s France record of 142 caps on Sunday, has only stopped 16 of the 108 spot kicks he has faced in his career, a shortcoming that cost France dearly at the European championship last year when they were bundled out in the last 16 by Switzerland on penalties.
“We’ve been looking into penalties with the analysts but there is a psychological factor that comes into play, and also how the penalties are taken,” the France captain said.
Lloris added, however, that France had what it takes to down Poland in regulation time if they stay focused throughout.
“Some keepers are better at (penalties) but if we’re fully focused from start to finish, we have the weapons to win it before we get there,” he said.
“We need to have that killer instinct.”