The first weekend of the 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks off with 1998 champions France taking on Australia in Group C.
Kazan Arena, Kazan, Russian Federation
Key Stat: France have not conceded a goal in their opening World Cup match since losing to Senegal as defending champions at the start of the 2002 tournament.
Expert Verdict: France are big favourites to top Group C and start their 2018 World Cup campaign against an Australian side who needed the play-offs to get through to Russia. New manager Bert van Marwijk has overseen a turnaround in Australia's recent form with back-to-back wins in their two friendlies this month, but it is difficult to see them stopping a France team who have scored 17 goals in their last eight matches.
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AFC Asian Cup winners Australia take on Euro 2016 runners-up France in the first game in Group C at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. This will be the fifth match between the Socceroos and the 1998 World Cup winners, and their second at a major tournament after the 2001 Confederations Cup. Taking place at the Kazan Arena on Saturday June 16, the match kicks off at 1pm local time.
After having to come from behind to draw with USA last time out, a few of France’s key selection decisions are likely to have been settled for Didier Deschamps in that game. Benjamin Pavard stepped off the bench to provide the assist for Kyllian Mbappe’s goal, while Ousmane Dembele had already replaced Olivier Giroud at that point. Benjamin Mendy has started two of France’s three pre-tournament games at left-back, but Lucas Hernandez was preferred for the win against Italy and could get the nod to face Australia after coming off the bench against the Americans.
France football team is blessed with some of the best upcoming attacking talent in world football, with Kyllian Mbappe scoring in their most recent friendly, and Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann finding the net in the win against Italy before that. Paul Pogba is their key man in midfield, meanwhile – and the £89m midfielder has a point to prove after a hit-and-miss season with Manchester United.
France have lost just one of their last 12 matches, and go into the game against Australia on the back of four matches without defeat. Since losing 3-2 to Colombia in March – a match they were leading 2-0 after Olivier Giroud and Thomas Lemar scored – France have beaten Russia, Republic of Ireland and Italy and, last time out, drew 1-1 with the USA. Against Russia, Kyllian Mbappe’s double and Paul Pogba’s goal secured a 3-1 win, while it was Giroud and Nabil Fekir who got their pre-tournament schedule off to a winning start in a 2-0 defeat of Ireland. In Nice, France then beat Italy 3-1 with Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele in the goals after Samuel Umtiti’s early opener, before Mbappe’s late equaliser confirmed a draw with the USA in their final warm-up match.
Defenders:Benjamin Pavard, Raphael Varane, Samuel Umtiti, Lucas Hernandez
Midfielders:Paul Pogba, Ngolo Kante, Corentin Tolisso
Forwards:Kyllian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele
Tim Cahill appears unlikely to start for Australia at the World Cup having appeared for just ten minutes in the two warm-up matches. Andrew Nabbout started both games up front instead. Daniel Arzani stepped off the bench to score in the win against Hungary last time out, bit Robbie Kruse and Mathew Leckie have started both matches on the wings, so Arzani may have to make do with a place on the bench.
Aaron Mooy pulls the strings in the middle for Australia, with the Huddersfield man heading to the World Cup on the back of a leading role in the Terriers’ Premier League survival last season. Mathew Leckie scored twice in the win against the Czech Republic, meanwhile. In goal, Matthew Ryan enjoyed a good first season in the Premier League with Brighton, and he is likely to be very busy with France’s attacking talent on Saturday.
After sealing World Cup qualification with a Mile Jedinak-inspired 3-1 win against Honduras, Australia team have played four friendlies and won the most recent two. A crushing 4-1 defeat in Norway was first up in March, despite Jackson Irvine giving the Socceroos the lead, but defensive pride was restored with a goalless draw against Colombia. This month, they won 4-0 against the Czech Republic – Mathew Leckie scoring twice – and then left it late to beat Hungary in their final warm-up game, courtesy of a stoppage-time own goal in a 2-1 win.
Defenders:Joshua Risdon, Trent Sainsbury, Mark Milligan, Aziz Behich
Defensive Midfielders:Mathew Leckie, Aaron Mooy, Massimo Luongo, Robbie Kruse
Attacking Midfielders:Tom Rogic
France and Australia have met each other times in previous matches, with Olivier Giroud scoring twice in a 6-0 win when Didier Deschamps last faced the Socceroos in 2013. Only four of the French players who started that game – Giroud, Hugo Lloris, Paul Pogba and Raphael Varane – are in the French World Cup squad. Prior to that, each side had won one of the previous three, with one draw. Their only competitive meeting came at the 2001 Confederations Cup, which Australia won 1-0.
France have not conceded a goal in any of their opening matches at the last four World Cups
France have lost just one of their last 12 matches, and are unbeaten in their last four games.
Having scored in the 2006, 2010 and 2014 tournaments, Tim Cahill will draw level with Pele, Uwe Seeler and Miroslav Klose as one of only four players to score in four different World Cups should he find the net this year.
Australia conceded three goals in each of their last three World Cup matches as they finished bottom of Group B in 2014.
Australia may have enjoyed an upturn in fortune in their most recent matches, but they were below-par in qualification and are not likely to upset the odds against a very strong French team.
Bert van Marwijk has found a winning combination, while they kept Colombia out in a recent friendly too, but the 4-1 defeat to Norway in March highlighted the Australian’s vulnerability.
France have lost just one of their last 12 games played, meanwhile, and scored 17 goals in their last eight matches as their depth of attacking talent has come to the fore.
That Dmitri Payet, Anthony Martial and Alexandre Lacazette have all been left out of the squad and they still boast one of the best strikeforces in the competition tells you all you need to know.
Kyllian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele and joint-Golden Boot favourite Antoine Griezmann have all found the net in warm-up matches, as have Olivier Giroud and Nabil Fekir. Mbappe also scored twice when France won in Russia in March.
France’s attacking strength makes it hard to look beyond anything but a French win in Kazan – anything else would be a big upset. That they beat Australia 6-0 in their most recent encounter tells you all you need to know.
Australia’s upturn in form means a repeat of that scoreline is very unlikely, but France have scored plenty of late and will expect a few more to kick-start their Russia 2018 campaign in style.
France are, unsurprisingly, huge favourites for Saturday’s match in Kazan against Australia. Didier Deschamps’ side are priced at just 1/4 to win with Bet365, Betfair and Betway.
Having not conceded a goal in their opening game in any of the last four tournaments, they are a best price of 8/11 with Betway to keep that record up with a win to nil against Australia, meanwhile. Betting against both teams to score returns a best price of just 8/15 with Betfair.
Australia’s last three World Cup games have seen them conceded three apiece against Chile, the Netherlands and Spain and Betfair and Paddy Power are both offering the best price of 9/2 on a French win by three goals.
France are blessed with a great depth of goalscoring talent, and Antoine Griezmann is a best price of 11/10 with Ladbrokes to score at any time on Saturday. Kyllian Mbappe, who scored against USA last time out, is 13/10 to find the net with Ladbrokes and Betway.
You can also back France to be leading at half-time and full-time, with Ladbrokes and Betfair offering 4/5 on the France/France combination.
France should start their 2018 World Cup with a comfortable win, and anything less would have to be considered an upset. Australia have improved lately, but France’s attacking quality should prove too much for the Socceroos.