France vs Australia
Despite taking several high-profile injury blows on the eve of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, reigning world champions France are odds-on favourites to dispatch Australia in their Group D curtain-raiser.
France’s triumphant 2018 World Cup campaign in Russia started with a 2-1 beating of non-other than Australia, yet some significant components from the squad won’t be in Qatar. After Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, Didier Deschamps has lost newly-crowned Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema to injury, meaning Kylian Mbappe may have to do it all by himself. Unfortunately, France’s abysmal form in the 2022 UEFA Nations League season cannot inspire much confidence in the camp (W2, D2, L3). Neither can their underwhelming scoring return of under 1.5 goals netted in five of those six matches. That doesn’t bode well for Les Bleus’ bid to defy the ‘defending champions hoodoo’ that has seen the last three reigning World Cup holders knocked out in the group stages.
Meanwhile, Australia may be bracing themselves for their sixth appearance at a World Cup finals, yet they’ve only made it out of the group stages once, doing so in 2006. Since then, the ‘Socceroos‘ have claimed just one victory in nine matches in the World Cup group phase (D2, L6). Defending has not been the Australians’ strong suit by any stretch of the imagination, as they’ve racked up only one clean sheet in their 16 World Cup games, courtesy of a scoreless draw against Chile in 1974! But after navigating the dreaded inter-confederation playoffs past CONMEBOL side Peru, Graham Arnold’s men may show up in a confident mood, knowing they’ve won five consecutive international fixtures in the lead-up to Qatar.