The world cup curse about the defending champions exiting the competition at the group stage commenced with France in 2002, twenty years later they will be looking to break the jinx in Qatar as they start their defense of the title against the Socceroos of Australia at the Al Janoub Stadium tomorrow. Both these nations have met four times with France winning twice, the 2-1 win most recently at the last world cup, a draw and an Australian win in 2001.
While the French look to have lost all their powers judging by the Nations League performances this year, it’d be unwise to think they come into this competition lacking in quality. They’ve lost Paul Pogba, NgoloKante, Presnel Kimpembe and only few days ago, the best player in the world “Karim Banzema”, all through injury. It doesn’t look good for Didier Deschamps as defenders Joules Kounde and Raphael Varane are doubts as well but then look at how much talent they still possess in defense for a start with Arsenal’s William Saliba, Dayot Upamecano and Liverpool’s Moussa Konate, ridiculous!
In midfield, Real Madrid duo of Aurelien Tchouameniand Eduard Camavinga both stand a chance to fill the boots of Pogba and Kante, keep an eye on the pair as they seem to hold the hopes of the French in this competition. I expect the coach to revert to a 4-3-3 formation as against the 3-4-3 tactics he often played that saw them lose a run of games at the Nations League. He is experienced enough to play to his strengths after winning the trophy as both a coach and player in 2018 and 1998 respectively.
In attack, the golden boy of Russia 2018 returns, Kylian Mbappe, as a better player looking to set the records straight as regards speculations about his future at club level. There is enough quality going forward and expect goals in this team.
On the other hand, Australia has not had the best year yet, they shocked the world when they progressed ahead of Peru in that playoff stage for the competition proper. Former Brighton goalkeeper Mat Ryan now in Copenhagen looks like the most experienced player in the squad with most of the players either playing in the second tier clubs in England, the Scottish league and the Australian league. Celtic midfielder Aaron Mooycarries the responsibility of creativity in the midfield, he won’t do it alone as Riley McGree of Middleborough and Cameron Devlin will be available for selection in Graham Arnold’s list. The Australians look to me like they’d be setting up in defensive fashion with intentions of hitting the French on a counter. They have the players to enable them play on the break with Mathew Leckie looking to finish chances as the key striker.
The concern for worry however is at the back, Nathaniel Atkinson and Bailey Wright might not be able to curtail the exploits of Olivier Giroud in one on one situations, they look like they lack full concentration sometimes and are liable to errors which the opponents would make use of. I’d suggest the Oceania boys play a 5-4-1 formation and sit deep to frustrate the current world champions but do they have the discipline to withstand the terror that Deschampswill unleash in attack? Big question to be honest, I can’t see two possible outcomes in this one, we haven’t talked about players like Ousmane Dembele, Kingsley Coman and Borussia Mönchengladbach striker Marcus Thuram, abundance of talent in attack for France with enough quality in the middle and experience in goal as well with Hugo Lloris.
I cannot single out a star player in this Les Bleus team, there are star players in every department at the coach’s disposal, for Australia, you may want to single out Aaron Mooy as the biggest name and obvious hope for attacking creativity but then, the difference in quality between both sides is staggering, unfortunately, I can only see one winner in this one, my crystal ball says France will break the jinx of the champions cursewhich they themselves started two decades ago and they’d begin their defense with an outstanding performance that will surely send a signal to other heavyweight nations in the competition.
Do not bet against France, a bit erratic in defense and could be kind enough to ship a goal or gift the opponents some half chances, unconvincing displays in the last Nations League competition yes, but underrate them at your own peril.
Prediction by Charles E. ofili
France 3-1 Australia.