At least six World Cup debutants are on the cards as Australia eyes an all-time upset of reigning champions France in both sides’ opener on Wednesday morning. Live from 6am AEDT!
Coach Graham Arnold must make some crucial selection calls with Riley McGree looking set to start alongside Aaron Mooy and Jackson Irvine in the midfield, though Cam Devlin and Keanu Baccus could also be in the mix.
In defence Fran Karacic and Nathaniel Atkinson are battling for a spot alongside Harry Souttar and Bailey Wright, while at the other end of the pitch Mitch Duke and Awer Mabil should make their first World Cup appearances.
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Arnold refuses to even mention the word France, let alone any of their players.
Even without Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema, midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante and centre-back Presnel Kimpembe, France are full of global stars, led by Kylian Mbappe.
But Arnold doesn’t want his players to get overawed by illustrious opponents and has tried to present the French as faceless positions with specific strengths and attributes rather than star individuals.
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“It’s not being disrespectful at all but I’ve hardly mentioned the word France and I’ve hardly mentioned any players’ names,” said the Socceroos coach.
“They all play in positions, the players know who they are but it’s about identifying those players’ strengths and it’s one against one.
“There’s 10 blue shirts against 10 yellow shirts and it’s a fight.”
Captain and goalkeeper Mathew Ryan said it was about finding the right balance in their approach.
“The biggest focus for us has been the mentality and the boys have grasped the mentality: we go into every game, whoever we’re facing, with the right amount of respect,” he said.
“We don’t underestimate anybody and we don’t over-respect anyone and that’s a real challenge.”
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French centre-back Ibrahima Konate admitted last week that he does not even know the names of any of Australia’s players, and Arnold is determined to change that by full time on Wednesday morning.
“It’s our job to go out there tomorrow to show them who we are as a nation,” said Arnold of the Group D clash.
“The players have that stage, it’s their stage and this is an opportunity in life that can change your life even more than what they have now.”
Arnold pointed to the example of winger Martin Boyle, who was ruled out of the World Cup on Sunday with a knee injury, as a reason for his players to grasp this opportunity.
“A lot of players don’t even get one chance. All I’d say is every player needs to look at Martin Boyle today and realise how fortunate they are to be here and run off the back of that.”
Running hard is the bare minimum Arnold expects from his players.
“I’ve banned the word ‘fatigued’ and I’ve banned the words ‘in pain’,” he added. “This is the World Cup, there’s no such thing as being tired after a game or fatigued or having a bit of pain and stiffness: recover quickly and get on with it!”
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One problem Australia will not have to deal with is Ballon d’Or winner Benzema, who has been ruled out due to a thigh problem.
But Arnold said he would have rather seen the prolific Real Madrid forward lining up in Qatar.
“I’m disappointed that he’s not playing because it’s a great experience to be able to play against the world player of the year, but that’s how it is.”
Possible Australia XI: Ryan – Atkinson, Wright, Souttar, Behich – Irvine, Mooy, McGree – Leckie, Duke, Mabil
Possible France XI: Lloris – Pavard, Upamecano, Kounde, Hernandez – Tchouameni, Rabiot – Dembele, Griezmann, Mbappe – Giroud
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