France’s World Cup title defence starts on Tuesday against familiar foes Australia at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah.
Les Bleus squeezed past the Australians 2-1 in their curtain-raising 2018 World Cup fixture in Russia and went on to bring home the Jules Rimet trophy for the first time since 1998.
Didier Deschamps’ triumphant squad from four years ago lacks two significant components this winter – midfield genius Paul Pogba and tireless N’Golo Kante.
If the star duo’s absence wasn’t enough to dampen the spirits in the French camp, Karim Benzema suffered an injury that will keep him on the sidelines for the entire tournament.
The newly-crowned Ballon d’Or winner and Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe were meant to share the spotlight in Qatar before the Real Madrid stalwart picked up a fatal knock.
Severely crippled by injuries, France embark on a historic quest to become the first nation to defend the World Cup crown since Brazil achieved that feat in 1962.
Ambitions are not remotely as high in the Australian camp as the Socceroos aim to make it out of the World Cup group stages for the first time since 2006.
Despite reaching the finals in all three subsequent editions, they have never come close to advancing into the knockout stage again, losing five out of their six matches at the last two tournaments (D1).
However, even though their World Cup campaign in Russia went terribly wrong, Australia made France sweat in their 2018 opener, an example they will be looking to follow in Al Wakrah.
Also See: Denmark v Tunisia preview.
France’s seventh consecutive appearance at a World Cup finals bears much significance not just for the country’s bid to make history but under-pressure Deschamps.
Les Bleus’ lead-up to the Qatar showpiece has been nothing short of embarrassing, winning just one of their six UEFA Nations League A matches, all of which they started as favourites (D2, L3).
Benzema’s tournament-ending injury will unlikely settle Deschamps’ nerves as he hopes to help France defy the ‘defending champions syndrome’ that has hunted down the last three reigning holders.
Indeed, the last three defending World Cup champions have bowed out of the group stage, and matching that feat could end the 54-year-old’s tenure.
Australia’s all-time record against France reads worryingly (W1, D1, L3), as does their downfall in the FIFA world rankings, going from the highest-ranked Asian nation in June 2018 (#34) to the fourth-highest in November 2022 (#38).
Having managed just one shut-out across their 16 World Cup outings, the Socceroos seem unlikely to halt their slide in world football despite navigating the dreaded inter-confederation play-offs past Peru.
Manager Graham Arnold prepares for his first-ever World Cup as a manager after barely preserving his job in April amid Australia’s dreadful run of form down the final stretch of the Asian qualification campaign (W1, D3, L2).
Also See: Group D Table & Schedule.
France vs Australia Potential Line-ups
France (4-2-3-1): Hugo Lloris; Benjamin Pavard, Dayot Upamecano, Lucas Hernandez, Theo Hernandez; Aurelien Tchouameni, Adrien Rabiot; Ousmane Dembele, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe; Olivier Giroud.
Australia (4-3-3): Matthew Ryan; Nathaniel Atkinson, Bailey Wright, Milos Degenek, Aziz Behich; Ajdin Hrustic, Aaron Mooy, Jackson Irvine; Matthew Leckie, Mitchell Duke, Craig Goodwin.
France vs Australia Prediction
Whatever the final score, France will win the battle for possession, mainly due to Australia’s bid for self-preservation in this ‘David vs Goliath clash.’
Since Deschamps cannot call upon Benzema, who would be a perfect target for any type of delivery, Mbappe may have to embrace the leading role again.
But Les Bleus have plenty of ammunition up top to be troubled by the Socceroos’ defensive set-up, no matter how tough Arnold’s men may play at the back.
We envisage a routine win for the reigning champions.
France 2-0 Australia
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