Australia kick off their 2018 World Cup campaign in Group C with a match against one of the heavy favourites for the event – France.
France have made a habit of ending up short of the trophy at big international events in the recent past, the latest coming in Euro 2016. With the defeat to Portugal in the final still fresh, the French squad will be more determined than ever to become the champions in Russia.
Australia had to endure going through a tough qualification phase in order to book their place at the World Cup. A lot has changed since then, with a new manager in charge of their preparations. A few controversial decisions as regards personnel though, have already become the highlight of their campaign, before they even touch the ball.
The leadup to the World Cup was decent for France. While wins over Ireland and Italy were routine, the 1-1 draw against a young USA side showed that there are still chinks in the armour of the French, something Didier Deschamps will be looking to work on.
For Australia, the friendlies only had positive storylines. The Kangaroos coasted to victory over Czech Republic while eking out a good win over Hungary. Confidence must have been restored within the camp and Bert van Marwijk will be looking to utilise the form going into the match against France.
The Hard Tackle runs the rule over the two squads.
Team News & Tactics
Didier Deschamps has a lot to ponder upon before naming the starting lineup against Australia. For one, the defence has not been up to scratch, with France leaking goals from situations that should have been mitigated. Hugo Lloris will be expected to start in goal despite the recent couple of mistakes made by the Tottenham man in friendlies.
We could see a revamped defence, with Raphael Varane almost a confirmed starter. Samuel Umtiti though, is unlikely to start, with Benjamin Pavard tipped to replace him in the starting lineup.
Benjamin Mendy and Djibril Sidibe should guard either flank for the Euro 2016 hosts. Sidibe though, could miss the tie, having already missed the last training. In case he was to miss out, Presnel Kimpembe is likely to be deputised in his stead.
Paul Pogba hasn’t exactly embodied a player in form. But, the last friendly against USA showed that the French international is still one of the best midfielders around and should be afforded a start in central midfield alongside Chelsea superstar N’Golo Kante.
There are rumours that Didier Deschamps is going to go with a youthful lineup, meaning Olivier Giroud is likely to have to be satisfied with a place on the bench. Kylian Mbappe is doubtful for the match, meaning Ousmane Dembele is likely to be deployed on the right, with Thomas Lemar on the left.
Nabil Fekir should command the number 10 role for the French, with Antoine Griezmann leading the line for the heavyweights.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Kimpembe, Pavard, Varane, Mendy; Kante, Pogba; Dembele, Fekir, Lemar; Griezmann
Bert van Marwijk is set for a tasking time on the sidelines as Australia take on France. The manager will likely be setting up his side defensively in order to do some damage control. But, the Dutchman is also likely to keep things interesting, with fast paced players upfront and out wide in order to take advantage of any lapse in concentration from the French defence.
The back four will likely be the same from the narrow win over Hungary. But, we should see Massimo Luongo be replaced by the cultured Mile Jedinak, who will partner Aaron Mooy. The former Manchester City player will be the quarterback for the nation and will be looking to start counters with his precise passes.
The front four will largely be the same, with the only change being Tomi Juric coming in to lead the attack in place of Andrew Nabbout. Juric’s height and ability to hold up play will also be key to Australia’s chances of earning set-pieces in dangerous situations.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Ryan; Risdon, Milligan, Sainsbury, Behich; Mooy, Jedinak; Leckie, Rogic, Kruse; Juric
1. Soccer-boos? – Australia have won just 2 of their 13 matches at the World Cup, keeping just 1 clean sheet in the process.
2. French (r)evolution – France will be hoping for a better Group Stage, having won just 3 of their last 12 Group games, losing 4 and drawing 5 of them.
3. Australia have failed to score just once in their last seven matches at the international stage in all competitions.
4. On the other hand, France have been able to keep just 1 clean sheet in 2018.
5. Tim Cahill could become the fourth player after Pele, Uwe Seeler and Miroslav Klose to score in four different World Cups, if he manages to get one past Hugo Lloris.
Player to Watch
Mooy will be the lynchpin in midfield for Australia. The former Manchester City player has already shown that he can hold his own in the Premier League against the best of midfielders. Mooy already has basic knowledge of how to face Kante and Pogba.
With van Marwijk likely to instruct his side to play on the counter, it will be up to Mooy to spray the ball upfront to the attackers to do their job. The set-pieces are another area of threat that Mooy will be responsible for.
France 3-1 Australia
Bert van Marwijk is a seasoned customer at the international stage. But, even he would be aware that Australia go into the match as massive underdogs against France, who are one of the strongest bets for the World Cup in Russia.
Australia have the tools to make it difficult for France, especially with Sidibe and Umtiti likely to be unavailable for the tie. But, the French should prevail; rather comfortably at that.