The current champions look confident that they can defeat the well-trained and pragmatic Aussie team.
Who: France vs Australia, Group D
Where: Al Janoub Stadium
When: Tuesday, November 22 at 10:00 p.m. AST, 7:00 p.m. GMT
FIFA Ranking: France (4), Australia (38)
Defending champions France are clear favorites to beat Australia on Tuesday despite losing several key players to injury.
Forward and this year’s Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema was forced to withdraw from the tournament on Saturday after tearing a muscle in training. Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, both staunch supporters of the 2018 World Cup-winning team, were unable to travel to Qatar. Christopher Nkunku had to hobble out of practice on Tuesday after being attacked by his own teammate.
Despite those injuries, the French team are offering big money as Kylian Mbappé and Antoine Griezmann are expected to lead Les Bleus in Benzema’s absence. With Pogba and Kante absent, manager Didier Deschamps is likely to count on Aurelien Tchouameni and Adrien Rabiot to take their place in midfield.
The two sides met at the last World Cup, with France narrowly beating Australia 2-1 in the group stage thanks to an own goal and a penalty. France is hoping for a convincing victory this time. But Australia will try to take inspiration from their performance in 2018 against the eventual tournament winners.
This is the fifth consecutive World Cup appearance for the Australian Socceroos. However, they have not made it past the group stage since reaching the last 16 in 2006 with their ‘golden generation’, which included the likes of Tim Cahill, Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka.
“Australia enters this tournament with a diverse group of players: a handful have World Cup experience but the majority are at a finals for the first time, with nine most recently representing the Under-23 team at the Tokyo Olympics,” says Samantha Lewis, an Australian football writer.
However, what the Aussie team lacks in experience they make up for in youth – and possibly an appetite to challenge France.
Lewis describes the Australia squad as “full of young, hungry players enjoying their first big shot on the world stage, which is equal parts exciting and nerve-wracking”.
Graham Arnold, Australia coach, has become known for a pragmatic style of play in recent years. Against France, he will likely rely on regulars like Celtic midfielder Aaron Mooy and veteran goalkeeper-skipper Mathew Ryan to ensure organization and discipline as they come up against some of the best footballers in the world.
Australia also have talented Cadiz winger Awer Mabil as well as teenager Garang Kuol, who has just signed with Newcastle United in the Premier League. Ajdin Hrustic, who won the Europa League in 2022 and is now plying his trade in Serie A, appears to have recovered from injury and will be able to spark some creative sparks in midfield.
Lewis says there is little expectation in Australia that their team will defeat Les Bleus. However, she admits a cautious optimism. “France is not the force it was four years ago thanks to a series of premature injuries and drama in camp,” she said. “So there are some loyal fans (myself included) who assume that if France takes as long to warm up for the tournament as they have in the past, they could score a goal or two.”