XtraTime Web Desk: Hot favorite France will start their Campaign against Australia in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The Euro runners will look for a comfortable win against the Aussies. Their potential in attack is clearly superior today with the addition of Kylian Mbappé, Thomas Lemar and Ousmane Dembélé, they have more options in midfield with, for example, Corentin Tolisso, and the younger players have gained more experience during the qualifiers. But as a unit they still lack the consistency, personality and control to make them a great team and natural favourites for the World Cup, and their style remains difficult to define.
On the other hand having changed coaches so close to the big dance, Australia head to Russia as very much an unknown quantity. Their former coach Ange Postecoglou was emphatic about the way his Socceroos side would play – without fear, an attacking style based on possession and high pressing, and at Brazil 2014 his players earned high praise for the manner in which they took games to Chile and the Netherlands.
Now let’s take a look at the strength and weaknesses of both the teams.
The attack is simply frightening with players such as Anthony Martial and Alexandre Lacazette not even making the squad. Three out of Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappé, Olivier Giroud and Thomas Lemar will start up front.
Lack of consistency – they lost to Sweden and drew with Belarus and Luxembourg in qualifying – and the full-backs, Djibril Sidibé and Benjamin Mendy, have just returned from injuries.
Players to watch:
Hugo Lloris: Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper is experienced as he already played 98 games for his national team. Lloris was applauded by the media and players, alike, for his performance over two legs against the Republic of Ireland that saw France earn a spot in the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals. Former national team goalkeeper Grégory Coupet credited his performance as “phenomenal”, while the French media branded him “Saint Lloris”, which is a play on the nickname of Real Madrid counterpart Iker Casillas, who was considered one of the top goalkeepers in Europe at the time.
Raphaël Varane: 25 years old Real Madrid stopper already scored twice in his 42 appearances for the national team. He scored against Sweden and Brazil in the International friendlies.
Paul Pogba: This attacking midfielder played 54 games for his nation but scored only nine goals. Too many below-par performances on big occasions have cast a shadow on his ability to turn the tables in tough matches. He is not a better player now than when he left Juventus for Manchester United two years ago and too often looks on the fringes of things. After a disappointing season in the Premier League, he could even lose his place in the starting lineup if he does not show the right attitude, raise his standards and keep his game simple.
Kylian Mbappé: Even if France doesn’t go all the way, he could well be one of the biggest stars, just as Thierry Henry was at the age of 20 during the 1998 World Cup, and end up as France’s best goal scorer. Just as with Pelé in 1958, Diego Maradona in 1982 or Lionel Messi in 2006, when all these legends took their first steps at the World Cup, there is an expectation to deliver despite the fact Mbappé is still a teenager.
Olivier Giroud: He already scored 31 goals in 74 matches Giroud scored his 31st international goal for France during a home game against Ireland, equalling Zinedine Zidane’s record, and becoming the fourth highest goal scorer of all time for the country.
Van Marwijk will aim to tighten the defense and hope that pacy players such as Mathew Leckie and Robbie Kruse can cause damage up front.
These teams are not used to playing opponents of the highest calibre and may be overwhelmed against France, Denmark and Peru.
Mathew Ryan: Australian no 1 Goalkeeper got 44 caps and also plays for the English club Brighton.
Aaron Mooy: Aaron Mooy have been superb at club level in recent years but like England’s infamous dilemma with Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, there are question marks over whether he and Tom Rogic can operate effectively in the same team.
Daniel Arzani: Daniel Arzani is a player to watch as a wide forward. After a breakout year in Australia the teenager is not short of confidence or guile and could conjure something special, especially against packed defenses.