France will be the first of the tournament favourites to take on a significantly lower-ranked opposition in Australia this Saturday (11 am GMT, 2.00 pm local time).
France vs Australia
After the expected feast of Portugal vs Spain on Friday night, France will take on the 36th ranked Socceroos with the hope of not only defeating their southern hemisphere opposition but not self-destructing themselves, as is the tradition with French major-tournament squads.
Ranked only seventh themselves, but boasting a pool of players capable of playing on the world stage far beyond just their 23-man squad, the French team will largely be relying on Antoine Griezmann to score the goals to set them on the path to glory. The Atletico Madrid striker revealed earlier this week that he’s made a decision with regards to his club future – addressing the ongoing rumours of a move to Barcelona – but will be waiting until after the tournament has concluded to announce his choice.
Coming into the tournament off the back of a convincing win against an ageing Italy and a slightly embarrassing draw against a USA team that couldn’t beat Panama to qualify for Russia, the French are as short as fourth favourites with some bookies. France will be looking to world-class talents such as Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe, N’golo Kante and Raphael Varane to not self-implode and guide Les Blues to at least the semi-finals.
As for Australia, they thrashed the Czech Republic 4-0 and scored a late winner to defeat Hungary in their two warm-up matches. It would have been more comfortable if it wasn’t for a comical own-goal by Trent Sainsbury two minutes from time, but Daniel Arzani – apparently the youngest player at this summer’s tournament – scored from 20 yards a minute after coming on for his second cap.
The Socceroos boast Premier League experience in their squad with current representatives in Brighton goalkeeper Mat Ryan and Huddersfield playmaker Aaron Mooy, and former top-flight players like Mile Jedinak, Brad Jones and the evergreen Tim Cahill. The Aussies find themselves in a tough group though and will exceed expectations if they qualify ahead of hipster-favourites Peru and Denmark, who they face after France.