France undoubtedly fabulous but not unbeatable
BOASTING one of the most talented squads in world football, France head into the World Cup with legitimate claims on the title, but questions remain about their team spirit and mentality.
Game 1 v Australia Kazan June 16 8PM AEST
World Cup appearances: 1930, 1934, 1938, 1954, 1958, 1966, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014, 2018
Best World Cup performances
Runners up: 2006
How they qualified: Finished four points clear of UEFA Group A, ahead of second placed Sweden.
World ranking: 7
Head to head: 1994: Australia 0 France 1 (Kirin Cup, Japan) 2001: Australia 1 France 0 (Confederations Cup ) 2001: Australia 1 France 1 (Friendly) 2013: France 6 Australia 0 )Friendly)
Formation: 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1
Squad: Goalkeepers: Alphonse Areola (Paris St Germain), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur), Steve Mandanda (Olympique de Marseille)
Defenders: Lucas Hernandez (Atletico Madrid), Presnel Kimpembe (Paris St Germain), Benjamin Mendy (Manchester City), Benjamin Pavard (VfB Stuttgart), Adil Rami (Olympique de Marseille), Djibril Sidibe (Monaco) , Samuel Umtiti (Barcelona), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid).
Midfielders: N'golo Kante (Chelsea), Blaise Matuidi (Juventus), Steven N'zonzi (Sevilla), Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Corentin Tolisso (Bayern Munich)
Forwards: Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona), Nabil Fekir (Olympique Lyonnais), Olivier Giroud (Chelsea), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Thomas Lemar (Monaco), Kylian Mbappe (Monaco), Florian Thauvin (Olympique de Marseille).
Reserves: Wissam Ben Yedder (Sevilla), Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), Benoit Costil (GK, Bordeaux) , Mathieu Debuchy (St Etienne), Lucas Digne (Barcelona), Alexandre Lacazette (Arsenal), Anthony Martial (Manchester United), Adrien Rabiot (Paris St Germain), Mamadou Sakho (Crystal Palace), Moussa Sissoko (Tottenham Hotspur), Kurt Zouma (Chelsea).
Lloris, Sidibe, Varane, Umtiti, Mendy, Pogba, Kante, Matuidi, Lemar, Mbappe, Griezmann.
As in South Africa when they faced Germany first up and lost 4-0, the Socceroos are taking on a big hitter and if they suffer a heavy reverse their tournament could effectively be over before it gets going.
France are a team stacked with such talent coach Didier Deschamps felt able to omit stars such as Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette and Manchester United's Anthony Martial and the Socceroos will have threats coming at them from all over the park in Kazan.
Midfielder Paul Pogba is a 6'3" artist who can unlock defences at will. A thoroughbred of a runner, he lopes around the pitch and always seems to have plenty of time with which to work his magic. It is fair to say he didn't fully justify his $160m transfer fee at Manchester United this past season, but expect him to fire at the World Cup.
Pogba is ably assisted by Juventus's hard-tackling Blaise Matuidi who is strong, quick, athletic, safe in possession, has a killer pass and a powerful left foot shot. Acting as midfield 'policeman' is N'Golo Kante, an expert in breaking up opposition attacks and getting his team on the front foot. After winning the Premier League with Leicester City in 2015/16 he was snapped up by Chelsea and was a key factor in the Blues' title win the following season.
Despite France's midfield riches, is is up front where the real threat lies. Pace, power, skill and an unerring eye for goal are trademarks of one of the most potent forward lines in world football.
Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann is the key man. Quick, direct, calm in front of goal and lethal with both feet, his 19 goals in 30 games for Atletico this season attest to his danger. His confidence would have received a further boost by his double in Atletico Madrid's Europa League final win over Marseille.
Griezmann's forward companions are no slouches. Chelsea's Olivier Giroud and teen superstar Kylian Mbappe (of whom former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said: 'there are no limits to his game') are among Deschamps' attacking options.
While it is fair to assume Australia will be putting in plenty of defensive work against Les Bleus, finding a way to score against France will be no easy task. Their defensive line is marshalled by Real Madrid centre back Raphael Varane and in captain Hugo Lloris, France have one of the finest goalkeepers in the world.
Despite this, question marks remain over France's cohesiveness as a team. Their results in qualification included 0-0 draws with lowly Belarus and Luxembourg (pop. 583,000). There is a sense Deschamp hasn't yet been able to mould his superstar outfit into a well-oiled machine. Following France's 3-2 loss to Colombia in a home friendly in March, Lloris complained: "We should take a good look at ourselves. We have big ambitions for the World Cup but we didn't play as a team tonight. We should look at this Colombian team. They probably have a less-talented squad than us but they are a real team."
Another key question mark about France is their mentality.
Pogba said recently: "We have a nice team but the World Cup is in your head too, it's not just technique.
"It's team spirit, it's more mental than technique. We have to be careful with this."
In 2010 the squad was riven by internal ructions and imploded. Australia may be hoping history repeats.
Coach: A World Cup winner as a player with France in 1998, Didier Deschamp is straight-talking disciplinarian who ensures his players know who is boss. Appointed in 2012, he led France to the quarter finals at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil where they lost to eventual winners Germany. His France outfit made the final of Euro 2016 where they were beaten by Portugal. The outrageous array of talent at his disposal means Deschamp can entertain genuine hopes of winning the World Cup in Russia.