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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 16 June 2018
26 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 16 JUNE 2018 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM The French team enters the World Cup as one of the favourites. PHOTO: SOCCEROOS. COM.AU Green and Gold and Les Bleus step out on World Cup stage GEORGE STOGIANNOU Australian and French eyes the world over will turn to Kazan in Russia tonight as Australia and France make their long-awaited entrance onto the World Cup stage for their opening Group C match. While the French team can boast a dazzling array of stars, who have developed into a formidable team under the experienced hand of coach Didier Deschamp, and are expected to progress deep into the tournament, their focus has been on preparing for the opening game against the lower-ranked Socceroos. Coach Deschamp, who has been in charge of the national team since 2012, described the Socceroos in the days leading to tonight's match: "They are aggressive, but with interesting attacking potential, whether it's Kruse, Rogic, Nabbout, or Juric in more of a pivot role," Deschamps said. "They're well-organised but they're not happy just to defend, the new coach obviously put a lot of emphasis on the back line because they used to be very attacking, and they were caught off balance sometimes. "But they have the players, they're not necessarily massive players, they create, they play." Presumably what Deschamps is saying is that the Socceroos aren't lightweights and won't be easybeats despite having no recognised stars. Like the French, Bert Van Marwijk's Socceroos have spent much of their time in training camp in recent weeks, making sure they are physically, tactically and mentally prepared to take on the French in this opening fixture. Unlike the French, the coach has only had a few months to get to know his players. Having to face one of the tournament favourites in your opening group game has potentially positive and negative aspects. While conquering the French would be a be a dream start for the Socceroos, more realistic expectations would be for a positive performance and a respectable result against an opponent expected to dominate possession and place your defence under considerable pressure. Such an outcome would give the Socceroos confidence in getting a result in the last two group matches against Denmark and Peru. Australia's record in opening matches of past World Cup tournaments is not one that exactly inspires confidence; with three out of the four tournaments producing opening round defeats for the Socceroos. The only time the Socceroos did manage to win an opening group game was against Japan in 2006 when a Cahill-inspired comeback gave them a 3-1 win and spurred the Socceroos on to their only progression out of the group stage. What the Socceroos will be determined to avoid is something like the disastrous 4-0 opening game loss to Germany in 2010. That heavy loss ultimately resulted in their failure to pro- gress out of the group despite picking up points in both remaining group matches. Under the experienced Van Marwijk, and faced with a group in which there is only one football powerhouse, France, Australia's hopes of progressing beyond the group stage appear much more promising than they did four years ago in Brazil when Australia found itself in an almost impossible group with Chile, Netherlands, and Spain, under a relatively inexperienced coach in Ange Postecoglou. Like any coach blessed with an overabundance of talent at his disposal, Deschamp's biggest problem appears to be who to leave out. Unlike the Socceroos, who have retained veteran Tim Cahill, largely because no-one has emerged as an adequate replacement in the goal-scoring department, France has the proverbial embarrassment of riches: Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann, Chelsea's Giroud, Barcelona's Ousmane Dembele, PSG's Kylian Mbap- pe, and Monaco's Thomas Lemar. It's likely that Deschamps will play an attacking 4-3-3 formation against the Socceroos with three forwards or at least a 4-1-2-1-2, with two central forwards in Giroud and Mbappe with Griezmann just in behind them, as they did in their last friendly match against the US. Whatever the case, they'll be expected to put immense pressure on the Socceroos defensive quartet and defensive midfielders both with and without the ball. In midfield, France have the formidable talents of Chelsea's defensive midfield N'golo Kante, Juventus star Blaise Matuidi, and Man United's Paul Pogba. Kante has excelled at club and international level in the position his coach played. Van Marwijk may pack the midfield deploying Robbie Kruse and Matthew Leckie as wide midfielders rather than wingers, and using a central midfield trio of Rogic, Mooy, and Luongo as he has done in the two lead-up games against Czech Republic and Hungary. That means skipper Jedinak will likely start on the bench, with central defender Trent Sainsbury leading his country, and alongside him Milligan, flanked by fullbacks Behich and Risdon. Up front, Van Marwijk has shown a preference to start Andrew Nabbout over Tommy Juric. The Socceroos will look to keep their defensive structure as tight as possible for as long as possible. If they can avoid conceding early, the longer the game goes, the more chance the French will commit more players forward and open up for a possible counterattack. Obviously the Socceroos will need to be clinical in their finishing and keeper Matt Ryan will need to be outstanding. Whether the outcome produces popping champagne corks or the sound of beer can ring pulls, strap yourselves in for what promises to be a thrilling ride.
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