Who: France versus Australia, Group D
Where: Al Janoub Stadium
When: Tuesday, November 22 at 22:00 EST, 19:00 GMT
FIFA rankings: France (4), Australia (38)
Defending champion France is the clear favorite to win against Australia on Tuesday, although he lost several key players due to injury.
On Saturday, striker and this year’s Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema had to withdraw from the tournament after tearing a muscle during training. Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, both stalwarts of the team that won the 2018 World Cup, were unable to travel to Qatar. Christopher Nkunku had to limp out of practice on Tuesday after being attacked by his own teammate.
Despite these injuries, the French team offers an embarrassing wealth of riches. Kylian Mbappé and Antoine Griezmann are expected to take over the lead for Les Bleus in Benzema’s absence. With Pogba and Kante missing, manager Didier Deschamps is likely to bet on Aurelien Tchouameni and Adrien Rabiot to take their place in midfield.
The two teams 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 will be hoping for a convincing win this time around. However, Australia will be inspired by its performance in 2018 against eventual tournament winners.
This is the fifth consecutive World Cup appearance for the Australian Socceroos. However, they haven’t made it out of the group stage yet, as they reached the round of 16 in 2006 with their “golden generation,” which included players such as Tim Cahill, Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka.
“Australia is taking part in this tournament with a diverse group of players: a handful of players already have World Cup experience, but most are in their first final round, with nine most recently representing the U23 team at the Tokyo Olympics,” says Samantha Lewis, an Australian soccer author.
What the Australian team lacks in experience, however, they make up for with their youth — and possibly also with an appetite to challenge France.
Lewis describes the Australian squad as “full of young, hungry players who have given their first big shot on the world stage, which is both exciting and nerve-wracking.”
Graham Arnold, Australia’s manager, has become known in recent years for his pragmatic playing style. Against France, he’ll likely rely on regular players like Celtic midfielder Aaron Mooy and seasoned goalkeeper and skipper Mathew Ryan to provide organization and discipline as they face some of the world’s best footballers.
Australia also has the talented Cadiz Awer Mabil winger in its ranks, as well as teenager Garang Kuol, who has just signed with Newcastle United in the Premier League. Ajdin Hrustic, who won the 2022 Europa League and is now playing his trade in Serie A, seems to have shaken off an injury and will be able to provide creative impetus in midfield.
According to Lewis, there are few expectations in Australia that their team will beat Les Bleus. However, she admits a certain degree of cautious optimism. “France is not the power it was four years ago, thanks to a series of premature injuries and dramas within the camp,” she said. “So there are some loyal fans (including me) who think they could score a goal or two if France takes as long to warm up to the tournament as they did in the past.”