11:00 BST, Saturday 16 June, Kazan Stadium (Kazan, Russia)
France could be without two players heading into their opening game against Australia as Samuel Umtiti and Djibril Sidibe are struggling with injuries.
Les Bleus narrowly missed out on winning Euro 2016, as Portugal defeated them 1-0 in the final, and they will need to continue that form if they are to make any big strides at this competition.
Australia had a turbulent qualification campaign, and they were actually the final team to make it to the finals when they defeated Syria over two legs.
Ever since France drew 0-0 with Luxembourg back in September, they have been riding a wave of wins with six from their last seven games.
Despite France leaving out a number of star names, including Anthony Martial and Karim Benzema, they have one of the strongest squads at the World Cup and, as such, they’re one of the pre-tournament favourites to win their first title since 1998.
Two straight wins have helped to improve spirits for the Australians as they had been largely underwhelming over the course of 2017.
If the Socceroos can steal a point, it would be huge as the other members of Group C – Denmark and Peru – are of similar quality to them. This could be perceived as a free swing by Bert van Marwijk and his team.
Last Time Out
France 1-1 USA [International Friendly]
Kylian Mbappe scored a late equaliser to salvage a draw for France against the USA, but that will not be enough to calm the nerves of their supporters heading into the tournament.
Julian Green of Stuttgart gave the Americans the lead just before halftime with their first shot on target; a tame cross was half-cleared by Umtiti and Green fired in past Hugo Lloris in the France goal, who should not have been beaten at his near post.
A second goal came for Green in the second half, but that strike was ruled out for offside. Finally, Paris Saint-Germain forward Mbappe spared French blushes as Benjamin Pavard crossed for him to finish off nicely.
Australia 2-1 Hungary [International Friendly]
Daniel Arzani – the youngest player at this summer’s World Cup – scored his first goal for Australia as they beat Hungary 2-1 thanks to a late own goal.
The game was a dull affair that was brought to life in the final 15 minutes as Arzani opened the scoring for the Aussies.
An 88th minute Trent Salisbury own goal looked to have given Hungary a draw before another own goal won Australia the game on 92 minutes as Tamas Kadar put into his own net.
Australia, therefore, have won their last two games, building some huge momentum in the process.
Didier Deschamps is one of few managers yet to make up his mind on his starting XI, with a number of selection headaches. The big question revolves around whether he’ll deploy a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1, given his penchant to include Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud.
Giroud could lead the line, supported by Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele, or deploy Griezmann himself as a lone striker in a 4-3-3.
In midfield, the focus is on Paul Pogba, with N’Golo Kante and one of Blaise Matuidi or Corentin Tolisso deployed to support the former world’s most expensive player.
However, France could be without Umtiti and Sidibe, which will be a huge blow to their defence. Adil Rami could be called upon to replace Umtiti, whilst Benjamin Pavard will hold down fort on the right, with either Benjamin Mendy or Lucas Hernandez on the left.
Australia have no real injury concerns heading into this game and may play the same side that defeated Hungary last time out.
Key Battle: Paul Pogba (France) vs Aaron Mooy (Australia)
When Huddersfield Town shocked Manchester United last season in the Premier League, Aaron Mooy was at the heart of their win. He netted the opening goal that day and proved that he is more than capable of playing at the top level.
On that day, Paul Pogba was not playing. But, if he lines up in central midfield against Mooy he will know he will have a battle on his hands.
Whoever can control their midfield will give their team the best chance of victory, and while Pogba should be expected to do so, do not bank against Mooy leading his team to an unlikely positive result.
A ‘keeper on the decline?
Whilst Hugo Lloris’ status as one of the best goalkeepers in the world has long been established, the Tottenham stopper has recently shown signs of beginning his decline, with errors slowly becoming a more frequent factor in his game.
For instance, the 31-year-old was partially at fault in the draw with the United States, allowing Julian Green to beat him at his near post, whilst he parried Mario Balotelli’s free kick into the path of Leonardo Bonucci in the friendly against Italy.
Moreover, Lloris has made ten errors leading to goals and 20 leading to shots in the Premier League since 2015/16, including a number of mistakes in high profile fixtures.
Nonetheless, the ‘keeper was vital in Spurs’ 1-1 draw with Real Madrid in the Champions League in November and produced a number of elite performances as Tottenham stumbled into the top four after their FA Cup semi-final defeat, for which Lloris was dropped.
The question, therefore, is which goalkeeper will turn up for the World Cup?
Everything flows through Mooy
Enjoying a promising season for Huddersfield as they avoiding the drop to remain in the Premier League, Aaron Mooy heads into this World Cup as the Socceroos’ key player.
For Australia to stand a chance of progressing from a tough Group C, they need Mooy to be at the top of his game.
A capable midfielder, Mooy has the burden of creativity fall on him, as well as the reputation of being their midfield controller, exerting a calm influence in possession and keeping attacking moves ticking over.
In a midfield double pivot, moreover, Mooy has to pick up some of the defensive slack and ensure he’s not beaten for possession in the middle third, with positional awareness, as well as key tackles and interceptions.
For the tournament, Australia will get Mooy on the ball frequently, with everything flowing through him.
Prediction: France 3-1 Australia
France should make it past Australia with ease, such is their quality. If you look at the players they have at their disposal, then it is a fair assessment to say that they are better in every department of the pitch.
Australia need a defence-first approach and frustrating the French will be top of their agenda. Can they do it? Probably not, but if more time passes without a France goal, the Australians could get more adventurous and hit them on the break.
This, however, should be a France victory.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group C in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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