Sports Mole provides predicted XIs, team news and a full match preview for the World Cup Group C clash between France and Australia in Kazan.
France head into their World Cup Group C opener against Australia in Kazan with the weight of expectation on their shoulders.
Didier Deschamps‘s men were beaten finalists on home soil at Euro 2016 and are the overwhelming favourites to top the standings, but they face a Socceroos side that have racked up some impressive results of late.
France were widely expected to beat a depleted Portugal in the Euro 2016 final and their failure to do so with home advantage on their side raised questions about Les Bleus’ ability to compete with the best teams in the world.
They have since responded to their critics with a near-flawless qualifying campaign, losing only once on their way to Russia and topping their group with a four-point lead over runners-up Sweden.
Since qualifying, the French have maintained solid form, losing only one of their last six matches and scoring 13 goals along the way.
Les Bleus’ only defeat during that run was a 3-2 reverse at home to Colombia, though that result was sandwiched between a respectable 2-2 draw with world champions Germany and a 3-1 victory against World Cup hosts Russia.
Goals have not been a problem for the Euro 2016 runners-up since they have netted 17 in their last eight matches, thanks in no small part to the form of Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe.
There are a number of reasons why France are the overwhelming favourites to see off Australia in their Group C opener, and that includes their record against sides placed outside of the top 20 in the FIFA World Rankings.
When facing teams positioned between 20th and 40th, Deschamps’s side have won nine out of their last 11, which does not bode well for the 26th-placed Aussies.
World Cup history is also on the side of the French as they have not conceded a single goal in a World Cup opening match since losing to Senegal as defending champions in the 2002 tournament.
Recent form: DLWWWD
The Aussies approach their World Cup opener as clear underdogs, a tag that often applies to them when playing on the world stage.
The Socceroos met stiff competition during qualifying, eventually finishing behind Saudi Arabia and Japan in a tight group table, which condemned them to the playoffs.
However, a comfortable 3-1 aggregate victory over Honduras across two legs saw Bert van Marwijk‘s side become the 31st team to book their spot in Russia.
Since qualifying, Australia have been in good form, scoring six times during impressive victories over the Czech Republic and Hungary this month, and heading to the finals on a run of only two defeats in six.
The Aussies are expected to find themselves under the cosh against a much-fancied France side, but their goalscoring record against the world’s top teams gives them a glimmer of hope.
Since 2011, they have scored in seven of their last 10 encounters with teams placed in the top 10 of the FIFA World Rankings, and France are currently seventh.
Van Marwijk’s side, however, are known to be defensively frail against top-class opposition, although their last three internationals produced two clean sheets and only one goal against.
The Dutch coach’s experience at World Cups could be crucial for the Aussies, with the 66-year-old having guided the Dutch to the final of the 2010 competition.
Recent form: LWLDWW
Griezmann is expected to lead the line for France in their World Cup opener, with support from Mpabbe and Monaco ace Thomar Lemar out wide.
In midfield, Premier League pair Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante are likely to take on central positions, and Deschamps could name of a number of different defensive combinations.
Raphael Varane is almost guaranteed to start at the back, but Samuel Umtiti and Djibril Sidibe may have to sit the game out after missing training due to fitness concerns.
Tottenham Hotspur man Hugo Lloris will most likely start in goal and take on the captain’s armband.
Australia, meanwhile, are expected to start with Brighton & Hove Albion’s Mat Ryan in goal, in front of a back four comprised of Mark Milligan, Trent Sainsbury, Aziz Behich and Joshua Risdon.
Van Marwijk could well name a defensive lineup with damage limitation in mind, in which case Jackson Irvine may start in midfield ahead of Celtic’s Tom Rogic, while Tomi Juric leads the attack.
France possible starting lineup:
Lloris; Mendy, Varane, Rami, Pavard; Kante, Pogba, Tolisso; Mbappe, Lemar, Griezmann
Australia possible starting lineup:
Ryan; Risdon, Sainsbury, Jedinak, Behich; Luongo, Mooy, Leckie, Kruse, Irvine; Juric
Head To Head
Australia and France have met four times, with the Aussies winning once, Les Bleus twice and the other game finishing all square.
The last time they faced each other, the French obliterated the Socceroos 6-0 in a friendly in October 2013.
Australia’s only victory over their Group C opponents came in the summer of 2001 at the FIFA Confederations Cup, a game they won 1-0 thanks to Clayton Zane‘s goal.
We say: France 3-1 Australia
There are good reasons why France are odds-on to beat Australia convincingly, and the combined threat of Griezmann, Mbappe and Lemar is high on the list. Expect the attacking trio to penetrate the opposition’s defence more than once, but the Socceroos have a decent scoring record against the world’s elite, so there is chance they will sneak a consolation goal, given that two of France’s key defenders are doubtful for the match.