France tipped to dominate Group C opener against Australia

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 15 June 2018, 13:25

The stage is set for France. They are as short with some bookmakers as 2/9 to beat Group C opponents Australia and, aside from Belgium, are the biggest favourites of the opening round of World Cup matches.

The odds suggest two things: firstly, that Didier Deschamps manages the best France squad since the one he captained to European Championship glory in 2000.

Secondly, that the Aussies are a shadow of the side that made the last-16 back in 2006. The days of Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka are long gone while Tim Cahill, who at 38 has managed just 65 minutes of football in half a Championship season at Millwall, is popular more for his character and past achievements than current ability.

Optimism for the opener might have been higher had the attacking Ange Postecoglou remained in charge, although replacement Bert Van Marwijk is in defiant mood.

"Maybe we don't have the best players, but we want to become the best team. We have trained very hard to try and develop our own way of playing... and that means we don't always have to adapt to the opponent. We have to take the initiative ourselves."

Bert Van Marwijk

Pictured: Bert Van Marwijk, Australia Manager

Of course, he would not admit fear of the French publicly, but if this game starts badly for his side, it could become a damage limitation exercise.

The Tactics Board

Socceroos target man Tomi Juric, powerful dribbler Tom Rogic and promising centre-back Trent Sainsbury missed training on Monday while doubts linger about captain Mile Jedinak’s place, but for now we will presume the quartet will start in a 4-2-3-1.

The main task for Jedinak and Aaron Mooy, should they be Van Marwijk’s preferred double pivot, will be to deny space between the edge of the final third and the 18-yard box.

In doing so, they would restrict potential for combination play between Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele, who are tipped to lead the opposing attack in a 4-3-3; perhaps forcing them to find a less obvious route to goal.

France have alternative sources of creativity, however. Paul Pogba could flourish in a more expansive system than we see at club level while full-backs Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez are likely to spend more time in the opposing half than their own.

Responsibility will therefore lie with N’Golo Kante and Blaise Matuidi to not only control proceedings but also keep half an eye on the wide areas, where Mathew Leckie and Robbie Kruse will hope to instigate counter-attacks.

If Kante and Matuidi, two of the most energetic midfielders at the tournament, can snuff out danger quickly, then we could see Leckie and Kruse forced back. That situation would be problematic for the Aussies, because while Juric is a selfless worker, he perhaps lacks the individuality to threaten without support.

Giroud could be out

This is only the fourth meeting between Australia and France; the previous one came back in 2013, when Deschamps’ side romped to a 6-0 victory in Paris with Olivier Giroud scoring a brace. The 31-year-old is nursing a head injury and although he’s one of the manager’s favourites, it remains to be seen whether he will feature, given the strength in reserve. Antoine Griezmann, who scored 32 goals for club and country since August, would be an obvious anytime punt at 11/10 with BetVictor.

Deschamps isn’t overly happy about the speculation surrounding Griezmann.

“There is talk about their [Griezmann and Lyon captain Nabil Fekir’s] futures. It’s not ideal but I won’t be able to have ideal conditions anyway. But Antoine will remain in Spain, that much is clear, so no worries.”

Prediction

Given that BetVictor offer the most generous odds on a double chance - Australia or draw at 16/5, it would be a major shock were they to avoid defeat.

While that will be the primary target for Van Marwijk, the back-up plan will be to preserve his side’s goal difference ahead of what could be a battle for second place with Peru and Denmark. Equally, their opponents will be content to manage proceedings rather than attack at full-pelt, given that they play Peru five days later.

For that reason, we’ll shy away from backing a French goal-fest and instead seek value in a more modest margin of victory. A win for Deschamps’ side with Under 2.5 goals is 2/1 with Coral, while Under 0.5 second half goals might be worth a look at 18/5 with the same bookmaker.

Our prediction therefore, is a contest that France will have control of from the outset, but a scoreline that might not reflect the nature of their dominance.

France 2-0 Australia

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Graham Westley
Graham Westley
(Stevenage)
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