An injury-hit France side begin the defence of their global title when they tackle Australia in Tuesday’s World Cup 2022 Group D opener at the Al Janoub Stadium.
Les Bleus went all the way in Russia four years ago, while the Socceroos are aiming to end a run of three successive group-stage exits.
Since coming up trumps against Croatia on that rain-soaked evening in Moscow, France have added another major trophy to their cabinet in the form of the UEFA Nations League, but the negatives have far outweighed the positives for Didier Deschamps and co.
Off-the-field scandals and countless injury problems have also plagued this France side, who already hold the unwanted honour of being the worst-performing defending champions at a World Cup after going out in the group stage in 2002 without a single win to their name.
However, as defending champions, France command a healthy amount of respect – even if their only win from their last six matches was a 2-0 home success against Austria – but history is certainly not on their side as they aim to become only the third team after Italy and Brazil to win back-to-back World Cups.
Indeed, the three defending champions that have come just before France – Germany, Spain and Italy – have all seen their next runs in the tournament end in the group stage, and not since Brazil in 2006 have the holders won their opening game of the competition.
A round-of-16 berth in the 2006 tournament represents the Socceroos’ best achievement on the biggest global stage so far, and while they flattered to deceive during AFC qualifying, Arnold’s men head into their opening match on the back of five successive victories.
The Socceroos picked up a pair of friendly wins over New Zealand in September – winning 2-0 and 1-0 versus their Oceanic counterparts – but not since Tim Cahill’s scorcher against the Netherlands in 2014 have Australia scored from open play at the World Cup.
France and Australia are familiar foes at the World Cup having met in the group stage four years ago too, which France won 2-1 thanks to Antoine Griezmann’s penalty and an Aziz Behich own goal, and the Socceroos have only ever won one of their five meetings with Les Bleus, which came all the way back at the 2001 Confederations Cup.
France possible starting lineup:
Lloris; Pavard, Upamecano, Konate, Lucas Hernandez; Tchouameni, Rabiot; Dembele, Griezmann, Mbappe; Giroud
Australia possible starting lineup:
Ryan; Atkinson, Wright, Rowles, Behich; Hrustic, Mooy, Irvine; Leckie, Duke, Goodwin
Not a single player from either team scored from open play at the correct end of the field when these two sides met four years ago, and that has been an area of weakness for Australia in World Cup games gone by.
The Socceroos can take some encouragement from their winning streak and France’s ongoing injury woes, but Les Bleus’ lineup is still intimidating to say the least, and we have faith in the defending champions to break the opening matchday curse and start in perfect fashion.