For Australia, drawn in another group of death like 2014, they must escape with a point if they are to have any chance of reaching the knockout stages.
While for France, one of the pre-tournament favourites, they need a winning start to calm nerves and soothe expectations back home. A poor result for Les Bleus and the seeds of doubt and negativity are sure to surface.
Here’s a rundown of some of the key players for both teams – the cut-price Aussies vs the blue-riband France.
AARON MOOY V PAUL POGBA
Huddersfield playmaker Aaron Mooy has a lot of pressure on him as the Socceroos face up to France. Not only must he deal with the potent threat of Les Blues’ front six, but he must try to find a way through the back four with the tireless N’Golo Kante providing a front screen.
In front of him Mooy will have Andrew Nabbout, Robbie Kruse and occasionally Matthew Leckie running into space but he will need to thread the eye of the thinnest needle with his passes.
Mooy also must try to close down the space to Paul Pogba because if he gives the France impresario time on the ball, the Socceroos will have a very long afternoon.
As for Pogba, the mercurial Manchester United man, France fans will wonder who they will be getting – the sullen star who wanders around for 60 minutes before being substituted or the prowling predator, lurking on the edges of the box ready to pounce with a stunning strike or deadly assist to kill off Australian hopes.
Pogba had six goals and ten assists this season in the Premier League with on average 2.8 shots per game, 1.4 key passes, 2.8 dribbles and 1.9 aerial duels won.
But he accumulates such eye-catching statistics in clusters, with consistency one of his major issues.
TRENT SAINSBURY v SAMUEL UMTITI
With regular captain, and Aussie legend, Mile Jedinak set to be omitted by coach Bert van Marwijk, defender Trent Sainsbury looks to be handed the burden of captaincy.
Sainsbury has perhaps the hardest task of any Socceroo.
France’s front three of Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann, PSG’s Kylian Mbappe and Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele would give most defenders in the Champions League nightmares, let alone the Swiss Super League where Sainsbury plies his trade for Grasshopper Zurich.
The 26-year-old had a very disrupted seasons for the Grasshoppers, who finished second last in the Super League just avoiding relegation, playing only nine games in which he received four yellow cards.
But now he must marshal his no-name back four of Western Sydney Wanderer Josh Risdon, the veteran Mark Milligan (who plays for Al Ahli in Saudi Arabia) and Aziz Behich from Bursaspor in Turkey.
Sainsbury’s leadership will be crucial if Van Marwijk’s side has any chance of an upset – or more realistically to keep the score under the 6-0 embarrassment last time these two sides met in 2013.
For France, Barcelona’s Samuel Umtiti is expected to have a far less demanding task against the Socceroos’ lone striker Nabbout from Urawa Red Diamonds in the J-League, with Kruse playing in behind him.
The 24-year-old, freshly signed to a new contract at Barca, has an average of two tackles and 1.5 interceptions per game in La Liga while he makes 2.8 clearances and 0.7 blocks according to whoscored.com.
If Australia are able to mount any serious challenges Umtiti and his defensive colleagues Benjamin Pavard from Stuttgart, Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane and Lucas Hernandez of Atletico Madrid are fully equipped to snuff them out.
MAT RYAN v HUGO LLORIS
Perhaps curious to pick out keepers as players to watch but the France stopper and captain Hugo Lloris has been in patchy form recently while Mat Ryan for the Socceroos is sure to have a very busy day.
Ryan, the man between the sticks for Brighton in the Premier League, conceded 54 goals during the season with ten clean sheets while Lloris at Tottenham conceded just 36 goals with 16 clean sheets.
This of course has something to do with the people in front of them and the Spurs back four is far superior to the Seagulls.
For Ryan, Russia 2018 is about redemption. At Brazil 2014, the then 22-year-old leaked a combined total of nine goals against Chile, the Netherlands and Spain in that year’s group of death.
Ryan later admitted he could have done better on a few of the goals but he had only recently replaced veteran keeper Mark Schwarzer, who had been in goal for the Socceroos since 2006, and had announced his international retirement just seven months earlier.
Lloris, 31, is four years older than any other player in the expected Les Bleus line-up for the opening match (Griezmann is the next oldest at 27) and as captain he would be expected to calm the nerves of his younger team-mates.
But it may be the keeper who needs reassurance. By his usual high standards Lloris has had a few uncharacteristic bloopers of late, including being badly beaten at his near post in France’s last friendly before the World Cup against the USA, which Les Bleus drew 1-1.
He also made a shocking error in qualification against Sweden with a poor clearance gifting Ola Toivonen a 93rd minute winner.
France cannot afford many similar errors in the World Cup.
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