Sunday’s round of 16 fixtures feature the 2018 World Cup winner, the current African champion and one of the Euro 2020 finalists.
First up, reigning World Cup champion France faces Poland at the Al Thumama Stadium in the early fixture before arguably the highlight of the day as England meets Senegal at the Al Bayt Stadium.
Euro 2020 finalist England comes in as heavy favorites having reached the World Cup semifinals in 2018.
History would also seem to favor Gareth Southgate’s team. England has faced African opposition 20 times, including seven World Cup matches, and has yet to lose.
Although African nations have lost eight of their nine World Cup knockout round games against European sides, the lone exception was one which featured Senegal’s current manager, Aliou Cisse.
The 46-year-old Cisse played for Senegal in its victory over Sweden at the 2002 World Cup to reach the quarterfinals, just a few games after having beaten 1998 winner France in the opening tournament.
And, according to assistant manager Regis Bogaert, Cisse has been tapping into that experience ahead of Sunday’s game.
“When he talks he uses data and his own experiences,” Bogaert told reporters, per Reuters. “He was part of that great team in 2002 and I think the team really trusts him because of that experience he had as a player.
“Beating England would be a tremendous achievement, I don’t know how important it would be compared to the victory in 2002, which was important as well.
“If we can beat a team like England it sends out a very strong message about the progress we have made.”
Senegal will be without key midfield Idrissa Gueye, who is suspended following two yellow cards in the group stage, and star attacker Sadio Mané, who was ruled out for the Lions of Teranga ahead of the tournament with a knee injury.
Senegal could also be without Cisse, who has come down with an illness.
“He (Cisse) has been sick for a couple of days now and he let us take charge of training yesterday obviously with his instructions,” Bogaert told reporters.
“Hopefully tomorrow he will be able to come and be on the bench with the players but we are sure at 10 pm he will be there with the team.”
The qualification of Senegal and Morocco for the last 16 of Qatar 2020 marked just the second time that two African teams have reached the knockout stages.
“The outcome of the group stage shows the extent to which more countries have acquired the tools to compete at the highest level,” said FIFA’s Chief of Global Football Development Arsene Wenger.
This is the result of better preparation and analysis of the opponents, which is also a reflection of a more equal access to technology. It is very much in line with FIFA’s efforts to increase football’s competitiveness on a global scale.”
England finished top of its group, winning twice convincingly against Iran and Wales and drawing with the US Men’s National team.
Although star striker Harry Kane has yet to score for England, Southgate’s team has still scored nine goals in those three matches, with notable contributions from Marcus Rashford, Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka.
“Senegal will be tough,” Southgate said, per Reuters. “They’re very well organized, they’ve got a lot of good individual players playing in big European leagues and their expectations now will rise.”
In Sunday’s first game, France will face Poland for a place in the last eight in Qatar.
France, who booked her ticket for the knockout phases after two wins in as many games, looked impressive during the group stage, despite injuries piling up.
It faces a Poland side spearheaded by Robert Lewandowski, the country’s all-time top goalscorer.
However, France coach Didier Deschamps says Poland possess many more threats than just the Barcelona striker.
“They’ve had to defend a lot on 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,” Deschamps told a news conference, per Reuters.
But there’s more. They have a backbone of players with great international experience, with Kamil Glik, Piotr Zielinski, Grzegorz Krychowiak and some youngsters who have shown they were up to the task. They deserve to be here.”
France vs. Poland: 10 a.m. ET at the Al Thumama Stadium.
England vs. Senegal: 2 p.m. ET at the Al Bayt Stadium.
US: Fox Sports
UK: BBC or ITV
Germany: ARD, ZDF, Deutsche Telekom
Canada: Bell Media
South Africa: SABC