France are among the pre-tournament favourites to win the 2018 World Cup, and a glance at their squad list shows why. Les Bleus arguably have more talent at their disposal than any other nation taking part in this summer’s competition, with a range of options all over the pitch and a host of players either in or approaching their peak.
At the back, Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti form a solid partnership in the heart of the defence, while Benjamin Mendy is one of the best overlapping full-backs around. N’Golo Kante, Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba make for a well-balanced midfield, even if doubts over Pogba’s starting place have emerged in the last couple of weeks.
Olivier Giroud is an underrated centre-forward who excels at bringing team-mates into play, while Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele are all capable of conjuring up moments of magic in the final third.
The fact that Thomas Lemar, Corentin Tolisso and Nabil Fekir will probably begin the tournament on the bench – and Alexandre Lacazette, Kingsley Coman, Anthony Martial and Layvin Kurzawa were left out of Didier Deschamps’ travelling party altogether – serves as evidence of France’s tremendous strength in depth.
Having said that, there are still reasons to doubt Les Bleus’ capacity to go all the way this summer. They may have a supremely gifted squad of players but football is not played on paper, and this team have not always looked like the most coherent and well blended when you arrange all the composite parts into a collective unit.
Deschamps spent much of Euro 2016 trying to find the right system to get the best out of star man Griezmann, and although the manager now seems to have a clearer idea of his favoured approach, this France side does not have as consolidated an identity as fellow favourites Brazil, Spain and Germany. However, if that does prove problematic it will probably not be until later in the tournament.
Australia arrive in Russia with far more modest objectives: escaping the group and making the round of 16 would be an achievement for this group of players. A gruelling qualification campaign ended in success as the Socceroos overcame Honduras in the two-legged inter-confederation play-off, but the departure of manager Ange Postecoglou after that 3-1 aggregate victory left Australia searching for a new boss just a few months before the tournament.
They settled on former Netherlands head coach Bert van Marwijk, who has already set about changing the system and style of the side – the back three used under Postecoglou has been abandoned in favour of a 4-2-3-1, while the Dutchman has again emphasised energy, physicality and robustness - something for football betting enthusiasts to keep in mind.
Such qualities will be important for a team who are unlikely to outplay any of their opponents in Group C, least of all France. Aaron Mooy’s creativity could be important for the moments when Australia do get time on the ball, but fellow midfielder Mile Jedinak will probably be the key man here, with the Aston Villa ball-winner set to be tasked with breaking up play in front of the back four.
Tomi Juric is strong and adept at linking the play in attacking areas, so he too could be an important figure, while goalkeeper Mat Ryan will need to be at the top of his game if the Socceroos are to pull off a mighty upset at the Kazan Arena on Saturday.
Even taking into account their team spirit and strong work ethic, it is difficult to envisage Australia halting France in the two countries’ opening World Cup game this weekend. France will start quickly and circulate the ball at speed in an attempt to dislodge their opponents’ defensive rearguard, with the intention of scoring an early goal to force Australia to come out and push higher up the pitch.
How early Deschamps’ charges make the breakthrough could determine the number of goals they rack up, but the key question here is the margin of victory rather than who will come out on top. Ladbrokes offer 13/10 on Les Bleus scoring more than 2.5 goals, while a France win to nil is a little safer at 5/8 with Karamba. As far as any anytime goalscorer is concerned, a price of 21/20 (888sport) on Griezmann finding the net looks like excellent value.