France seek strik­ing win over Aus­tralia to ex­tin­guish doubts

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - WORLD CUP -

KAZAN, Rus­sia: France head into their World Cup opener against Aus­tralia in Kazan Satur­day sweat­ing on the fitness of full­back Djib­ril Sidibe and un­der pres­sure to de­liver an em­phatic win to erase doubts about the co­he­sion of a team of bril­liant in­di­vid­u­als.

Monaco right-back Sidibe has been bat­tling to re­cover from a knee in­jury, putting a query over one of the few po­si­tions in which France lacks am­ple depth. Six-cap de­fender Ben­jamin Pavard, who has played mostly as a cen­ter-back for Bun­desliga side Stuttgart, is likely to fill the role on his World Cup de­but against a Soc­ceroos side that is some­thing of an un­known quan­tity un­der new coach Bert van Mar­wijk.

There is fur­ther un­cer­tainty over the makeup of France’s for­ward line for the Group C en­counter at Kazan Arena, with coach Di­dier Deschamps fac­ing tough choices on his front three. He fielded ex­pe­ri­enced Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud with the sub­sti­tutes team in train­ing Wed­nes­day, sug­gest­ing ex­plo­sive 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe and Barcelona winger Ous­mane Dem­bele could form a pow­er­ful trio with An­toine Griez­mann.

Hav­ing cap­tained Les Bleus to the 1998 World Cup tri­umph on home soil, Deschamps knows a thing or two about global suc­cess and is blessed with one of the strong­est squads among the 32 in Rus­sia.

Their sheer depth of tal­ent has made them among the tour­na­ment fa­vorites, yet skep­ti­cism lingers over the man­ager’s abil­ity to get the best out of his stars. Bar­ring Mbappe’s goal in the 1-1 draw against the United States, there was lit­tle to like about France’s dis­jointed play in their last warmup match and Aus­tralia will of­fer a tougher propo­si­tion than the Amer­i­cans, ac­cord­ing to Deschamps.

Aus­tralia will also be des­per­ate for a pos­i­tive start, given their last two World Cup cam­paigns in Brazil and South Africa were all but ru­ined by first-match drub­bings.

On pa­per, they are pau­pers to France’s foot­balling roy­alty, have lit­tle fire­power up front and their mod­est de­fense faces a huge task to fend off their op­po­nents’ raids.

Dutch­man Van Mar­wijk, mean­while, has had only a hand­ful of games to im­print his game plan on the group’s low­est-ranked side.

Al­though they thrashed Czech Repub­lic 4-0 in their penul­ti­mate warmup be­fore Rus­sia, their scratchy 2-1 win over Hun­gary in their last start may be a bet­ter poin­ter to their form, the side still grap­pling with tran­si­tion from de­fense to at­tack. De­spite all that, the Soc­ceroos have as­sem­bled in Kazan with no short­age of bravado.

They worked hard in their pre­tour­na­ment camp in Turkey to build fitness and struc­ture, and max­i­mize their hopes of emerg­ing from a tough group fea­tur­ing 11th-ranked Peru and 12th-ranked Den­mark.

A re­sult against France looks fan­ci­ful, but if they are within touch late into the sec­ond half, look for Van Mar­wijk to in­ject 38-year-old striker Tim Cahill, who is bid­ding to be­come only the fourth player ever to score at four World Cups. –

Mbappe scored France’s goal in the 1-1 friendly match draw against the United States.

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