Door ajar for Socceroos to pounce on a French side in disarray

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When the Socceroos step onto the Al Janoub Stadium in Al-Wakrah on Wednesday morning, the objective will be to take at least a point from the fixture.

Whilst some cynics may find that goal a little comical, especially considering the playing talent available to both nations, recent circumstances have conspired to present opponents France with considerable challenges in the lead-up to their opening match and title defence.

Real Madrid star Karim Benzema has withdrawn from the tournament after suffering a minor thigh strain whilst training over the course of the weekend.

When added to the absences of both Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, the French have had a considerable portion of their star core ripped away just prior to the tournament and despite having plenty of quality men to step into the spaces created by their absences, will be undoubtedly affected by the unfortunate interruptions and uncertainty.

The Australian squad has been far more settled, with Nathaniel Atkinson, Kye Rowles and Harry Souttar having returned and thus far, managing to avoid aggravations to injuries that threatened to prevent them from travelling to Qatar.

Hibernian’s Martin Boyle has failed to overcome a knee complaint that will see him miss the tournament, yet aside from that disappointment, Socceroo coach Graham Arnold has the deck from which he wants to choose and will offer no excuses should the French simply be too classy on Wednesday morning.

Four years ago, the Socceroos were within 10 minutes of snatching a point against Les Bleus in the opening World Cup Group C match in Russia, with penalties seeing the teams locked at 1-1 heading into the final quarter of the match and a late Pogba-inspired winner proving the difference.

The fixture showed just how far a little Socceroo grit and determination could take Graham Arnold’s men in Qatar, with familiar conditions an advantage and many teams, like the French, potentially a little under-prepared due to what has been a brisk and rather unsettled lead up.

The circumstances present nothing but opportunity for Australia, and should they be good enough on the day to maintain parity, the path forward to the Round of 16 will look a heck of a lot easier with a point in the bank, as Tunisia and Denmark await in subsequent group matches.

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Expect no significant surprises in selection from Arnold. Mathew Ryan will continue as goalkeeper, Milos Degenek, Aziz Behich and Souttar are likely to continue to be backed at the defensive end and Ajdin Hrustic, Aaron Mooy and Jackson Irvine will all play roles in the Socceroo midfield.

Up front, Jamie Maclaren is the obvious choose at the arrowhead of the attack, with Craig Goodwin, Awer Mabil and Mathew Leckie the men most likely to play wider attacking roles.

How French coach Didier Deschamps patches over the absences in his starting 11 will be interesting. Raphael Varane has no recent football of which to speak, yet may well be needed to steady up a squad rocked by injury. Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez are likely to join him in the defensive unit, with Hugo Lloris certain to start in goal.

The midfield is from where most of the concerns stem, with Adrien Rabiot and Eduardo Camavinga now required to step up and play key roles for the 2018 champions, with the loss of Kante likely to be the most significant for any team in the tournament.

There remain riches up front, yet also disharmony in the form of Kylian Mbappe, with Oliver Giroud and Antoine Griezmann world-class attacking players that will excel should the midfield manage to function despite its significant losses.

(Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

As was the case in 2018, France are unlikely to start the tournament rushed or frantic; a team that generally works through the gears the more matches they play. That, if managed well, is no problem whatsoever, yet does present the Socceroos with an opportunity to snatch a result before France are anywhere near their best.

For that to occur, tempo and pressure will be key for the Australians. Sitting on the ball in defensive midfield will simply not be enough and against a sometimes questionable French defence; manic pressure via a high press will need to be applied for extended periods.

Arnold’s use of fresh legs from his bench will be crucial. Jason Cummings, Cameron Devlin and Garang Kuol have the quality to transform a game when injected and doing so earlier rather than later is advisable, especially if the Socceroos are able to enter half-time level and the opportunity to exert pressure on the French in the second half and push for the win presents itself.

Form-wise, France have been poor. Just a lone win against Austria across six Nation’s League matches spanning June to September is far from the perfect preparation, whilst the Socceroos have a recent winning record, yet little play against top-quality international opposition.

The Socceroos have a real chance to catch the French on the hop, yet it would also not surprise to see the reigning champions turn on the style and remind everyone of their quality, despite the perception that they are in disarray.

Kick-off is set for 6am on Wednesday morning. Catch all the action with the live blog right here on The Roar.

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