Group C gets started on Saturday afternoon when Didier Deschamps’ France side face the Socceroos in Kazan, while Denmark and Peru will have to wait a few more hours to get started.
Les Bleus are strong favourites to emerge from this group unscathed, and in a strong position to launch a significant assault on the tournaments’ latter stages.
At Brazil in 2014, France romped through their group, winning two matches and drawing one. For the Aussies, though, the trip was short-lived; three straight defeats sent the Socceroos home with their tails between their legs.
France boasts an array of attacking talent this time around, their 23-man squad limit not large enough to accommodate the likes of Karim Benzema and Alexandre Lacazette.
Can the French get their campaign off to a flyer…?
1. The start of the Antoine Griezmann show?
Widely regarded as a genuine contender for the tournaments’ Golden Boot, the Atletico Madrid man will carry a large share of the goal scoring responsibility for his country, though he’s far from lonely.
Griezmann has been one of Europe’s hottest properties for some time, and his value – and amount of suitors – is ever increasing.
His involvement in the 2014 World Cup was rather limited, the then-23-year-old was named in the squad after a string of good performances in the warm-up fixtures.
This tournament is set-up nicely for Griezmann to make a household name for himself on the biggest stage of them all. He’s hungry to score goals, to do well and to help his country succeed.
2. Which attacking cards to play?
The depth in quality in the French attack, or attack-minded players, is extraordinary – arguably the biggest in the tournament.
The aforementioned Griezmann is joined by Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud, young guns Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele, hot property Nabil Fekir and Marseille’s Florian Thauvin.
It’s a nice dilemma for Deschamps to have, a luxury, but which of those players will work best in his desired system?
The pace and raw talent of Mbappe and Dembele is a combination and partnership that the football world can’t wait to see develop, but at only 19 and 21-years-of-age, is it too soon to heap such pressure on their shoulders?
Deschamps will probably opt to use the pair of them rotationally while blooding them in with the more experienced forwards in the side.
Griezmann will hope to feature heavily as will Giroud, who is the teams’ top scorer.
It’s a nice position for Deschamps to be in, but how does he keep such a plethora of talent happy and playing?
3. Can Australia banish the ghosts of 2014?
The Aussies were only one of three sides to finish the group stages with no points though their group was rather intimidating; Spain, The Netherlands, and Chile.
This time around, games with Denmark and Peru await the Socceroos, and so on paper, this first fixture may be the most difficult to get something from.
The pre-tournament hype and buzz about the French squad, though, is warranted, and it may well prove to be too much for them to handle this time around.
The second and third games may be the subject of slightly heavier focus, and the runner-up spot in this group is there for the taking.
4. Youthful, energetic French midfield
It’s not only up front that the French will showcase real quality; their midfield options are aplenty, too.
Juventus’ Blaise Matuidi is the oldest member of the squad in that area, and at 31, he may well be playing in his final World Cup. Around him is the exciting, high potential trio of Paul Pogba, Corentin Tolisso, and Thomas Lemar, who are all 25-years-old or younger.
Deschamps’ selected midfield are all capable, technical and industrious players. Kante has made a name for himself for his hard work and determination while Pogba has an enormous potential to fill on the back of a sub-par domestic season.
Tolisso and Lemar are both prized possessions for their domestic clubs, the former having a solid, breakout campaign at Bayern Munich.
Much like the dilemma up front, Deschamps must choose a balanced midfield. It’s difficult to see Kante being omitted, limiting the chances for the younger players.
5. Can the Aussie midfield contain the French style?
Deschamps will look for his side to play the ball fast and utilise the frightening pace he has at his disposal.
Veteran Mile Jedinak and Huddersfield Town main man Aaron Mooy and Celtic’s Tom Rogic will have the unenviable task of shutting down the French midfield. Their ability to get close to the likes of Matuidi or Pogba will be key to stopping attacks from the source.
Kante is tireless, and the Aussie duo will know they will be in for a long, distance-heavy shift.
Mooy comes into this World Cup off the back of a hugely positive season for him and Huddersfield, his performances have been admirable and he can take lots of credit for helping preserve his sides’ top-flight status.
Rogic linked up with his national side fresh from yet another title-winning campaign in Scotland, while Jedinak’s Aston Villa fell just short in the Championship’s playoffs.
Although heavy underdogs, the Aussie midfield won’t come into this one short on confidence.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group C in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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