France test for Australia in Group C (Preview)

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Kazan, June 15 (IANS) France, boasting of one of the most talented squads in the FIFA World Cup, will be overwhelming favourites as they open their Group C campaign with a clash with Australia at the Kazan Arena here on Saturday.

France, who lost the Euro 2016 final and reached the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals under head coach Didier Deschamps, have a squad crammed with individual talents — which increased the responsibility of the coach to fit them into a balanced team.

For Australia, the match against France is a great opportunity as well as a huge test of quality and character. Even if they don’t earn a point against France, they will have matches against Peru and Denmark to keep alive their chances of going through to the knockouts.

They face an opponent who has arrived in Russia with the ambition of getting their second World Cup title after victory at home in the 1998 edition.

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A string of talents have emerged over the years for France to stake their claim to the title.

Hugo Lloris should take the number one position in front of goal. Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane are expected to play as central defenders. Benjamin Mendy and Djibril Sidibe, both shrugging off injuries, will play as full-backs on both flanks.

Playmaker Dimitri Payet is one among the prominent names sidelined due to injuries. The role will be handed over to Paul Pogba, although he was left out for some time in Manchester United. The area in front of four defenders should be protected by veteran Blaise Matuidi and N’Golo Kante. They also have Corentin Tolisso of Bayern Munich.

Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud, who just joined Zinedine Zidane as the fourth all-time leading goal scorer for France, will start up front. He will be partnered by Atletico Madrid creative forward Antoine Griezmann. Pars Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe, the No. 10 jersey owner, can provide additional firepower with his speed and flexibility.

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Ousmanne Dembele can offer offensive variety from bench, along with Nabil Fekir, Thomas Lemar and Florian Thauvin following their glittering seasons in Ligue 1.’

To halt the multi-talented attack of France, Australian interim coach Bert van Marwijk is aware of the enormity of the task he has been handed. The Dutchman is known as a realist and a pragmatist and will expect his industrious team to narrow down the spaces.

Van Marwijk will be relying on a group of British-based players to lead them to the last 16.

Midfielder Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield) and goalkeeper Mat Ryan (Brighton and Hove Albion) played critical roles this season in maintaining their teams’ English Premier League status. Tom Rogic had another outstanding season for Scottish champion Celtic, helping his side to three domestic trophies for the second consecutive season, including a seventh successive league title.

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At the age of 38, Tim Cahill has been given the chance to play at his fourth World Cup despite limited game time off the bench at Millwall in the English Championship.

But the Socceroos talisman for the past decade is still capable of boxing clever, especially with his aerial ability, and has been deemed worth the punt by Van Marwijk.

The other notable selections are Iranian-born Daniel Arzani, 19, who emerged this season as a game-changing wide player for Melbourne City in the A-League, and Fran Karacic, 22, who has never set foot in Australia and represented Croatia at youth level as recently as March.

–IANS

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