Following the draw with Ukraine, France will be hoping to get back to winning ways when they face Kazakhstan at the Astana Arena on Sunday.
Current world champions France failed to kick-start their 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign on a strong note, drawing 1-1 Ukraine in midweek. It leaves them desperately in need of all three points when they travel to Astana on Sunday to lock horns with Kazakhstan in their second Group D fixture.
Les Bleus have been pitted against some tricky teams in the group, including Finland, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Ukraine, meaning qualification to the main stage of the FIFA World Cup will not be a walk in the park for Didier Deschamps’ men.
In fact, Kazakhstan are being considered as the minnows of this group, the whipping belt for the four other teams, although they are yet to play a single game in the ongoing international break. It leaves them at a disadvantage, especially as they return to action against the current world champions.
However, the Kazakhs will be hoping to capitalise on their home advantage and hope to soak up the pressure from the incoming onslaught as coach Talgat Baysufinov looks to cause a huge upset. And here, at The Hard Tackle, we will take a closer look at the two sides ahead of this crucial encounter in the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign this weekend.
Team News & Tactics
The trickiest part of Kazakhstan coach Talgat Baysufinov is that this will be his first game in-charge of the nation, having only been promoted as a manager at the end of last year. He was, however, in charge of the nation for a brief period a few years ago and judging from his spell at other clubs, it appears the 52-year-old might opt for a 5-3-2 formation.
While Kazakhstan have every reason to opt for a defence-oriented approach, the attacking burden will be on the two frontline forwards in Abat Aymbetov and Maksim Fedin, with additional support from key player Baktiyar Zaynutdinov.
The attacking midfielder from CSKA Moscow has been a key player for the Russian outfit this season, featuring in 22 league matches. He also has an excellent record with the national team, netting as many as seven goals. His productivity, therefore, could be important if Aymbetov and Fedin struggle in the final third.
Askhat Tagybergen and Aybol Abiken should feature alongside Zaynutdinov, although the shape could very well turn into a 3-4-1-2 in the attacking phase, with the latter operating as an out and out number ten.
Defensively, Abzal Beysebekov and Dmitri Shomko are likely to occupy the wing-back slots, hoping to offer defensive support for the three-man backline. It will be interesting to see whether they get the license to move forward.
Probable Lineup (5-3-2): Pokatilov; Beysebekov, Alip, Marochkin, Erlanov, Shomko; Abiken, Zaynutdinov, Tagybergen; Aymbetov, Fedin
Despite failing to win against Ukraine, Didier Deschamps will have one eye on the important Matchday 3 tie against Bosnia & Herzegovina, so the France boss may opt to ring in the changes this weekend, as they face a relatively easier opponent.
Les Bleus were dealt with a massive blow in midweek when they confirmed the injury to N’Golo Kante. The Chelsea midfielder has been ruled out for the remaining two games, most likely paving the way for Paul Pogba to make his return in the double pivot, alongside Adrien Rabiot.
— French Team ⭐⭐ (@FrenchTeam) March 26, 2021
There could be further changes in the attack, with Kylian Mbappe, for one, likely to be dropped. The PSG superstar was struggling with injury problems prior to the international break, and might be preserved for the Bosnia game. Olivier Giroud and Kingsley Coman are also likely to start on the bench as Deschamps looks to ring in the changes.
Wissam Ben Yedder is the favourite to replace Giroud as the leader of the French pack, with Anthony Martial and Ousmane Dembele coming in for the wingers. It leaves Antoine Griezmann as the only attacker to retain his place in the side, with the Barcelona superstar hoping to cause tandem for the Kazakhstan defenders this weekend.
Defensively, Deschamps could offer opportunities for Leo Dubois and Lucas Digne while central defender Clement Lenglet could come in for Presnel Kimpembe. It will be interesting to see how the Barcelona star pairs up with Raphael Varane at the heart of the French backline.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Dubois, Varane, Lenglet, Digne; Rabiot, Pogba; Dembele, Griezmann, Martial; Ben Yedder
- Despite the slight dip in form in recent years, France are coming into this game on the back of six consecutive away wins in all competitions.
- This will be the first meeting between France and Kazakhstan in senior international football.
- France managed to win six of the eight fixtures that they played in 2020, losing just one (D1).
- Kazakhstan’s last victory in the international stage came way back in September 2020, when they secured a 2-0 win over Lithuania.
- Kazakhstan have kept three clean sheets in their last seven matches, two of which have come in the UEFA Nations League against Albania and Belarus respectively.
Player to Watch
Griezmann gives France the lead with a classy finish 👌 pic.twitter.com/h1AT1nc3Wi
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 24, 2021
Antoine Griezmann scored a sensational goal when France met Ukraine in their first group game in midweek. Although the Barcelona star could not inspire his team to a victory, his performance in the final third was the only bright spot for a Les Bleus outfit that is looking to right the wrongs in this upcoming game against Kazakhstan.
With Kylian Mbappe likely to be benched, Griezmann will naturally be the focal point of the French attack. His ability to work around the final third with silky footwork, delicate movements and an outstanding understanding with his teammates should make life difficult for the opposing defenders.
For coach Talgat Baysufinov, it will be imperative to prevent Griezmann from influencing the game if the Kazakhs are to salvage anything from this game, and it will be interesting to see how the 52-year-old plans to restrict the world champions this weekend.
Kazakhstan 0-3 France
The upcoming game against Kazakhstan should serve as a glorious opportunity for France to get back on track. The world champions are clear favourites to seal this tie, thanks to the gulf in quality between the two teams combined with the fact that the opposition is trying to work around their newly-appointed manager. We are thus expecting Les Bleus to dominate this affair.