France v Australia preview and predictions: World Cup Group C starts in Kazan

France will look to get their World Cup campaign off to a winning start when they face Australia in Kazan on Saturday (kick-off 1PM EAT).

Les Bleus are one of the favourites to win the tournament, but head coach Didier Deschamps faces tough choices over his front three.

He fielded experienced Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud with the substitutes team in training on Wednesday, suggesting 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe and Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembele could start in the Group C clash against Australia along with Antoine Griezmann.

Having captained Les Bleus to the 1998 World Cup triumph on home soil, Deschamps knows a thing or two about global success and is blessed with one of the strongest squads in Russia.

France are expected to top their group, which also features Denmark and Peru, but Mbappe thinks they are still behind the competition’s top teams.

“Let’s face it, Brazil, Spain and Germany are a little ahead of us. But on one competition you never know what can happen. We have potential, but if you look at everyone’s trophy list, ours fits on one piece of paper,” he said.

“I know the players and nobody is playing for themselves. Everyone wants to win and when you want that, you are ready to make sacrifices for your team-mates.

“We are a new generation that has just started blooming. Being a true team, what does that mean? Stick together, like each other, being able to run for your team-mate.”

Australia will also be desperate for a positive start, having lost their opening games at their previous two World Cups.

Bert van Marwijk was only appointed as Australia boss in January, but they have warmed up for the tournament with wins against Czech Republic and Hungary and a draw against Colombia.

Team news

France are sweating on the fitness of full-back Djibril Sidibe, who has been battling to recover from a knee injury.

Benjamin Pavard, who has played mostly as a centre-back for Bundesliga side Stuttgart, could replace Sidibe. Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti is also an injury worry.

Australia have no injury concerns, with Andrew Nabbout, Tomi Juric, Tim Cahill and Jamie Maclaren all bidding to start up front.

Benjamin Pavard could start for France
Benjamin Pavard could start for France

Opta stats

The record between France and Australia on neutral ground is perfectly balanced with a 1-0 win each (for France in Japan in May 1994 and for Australia in South Korea in June 2001). Their last encounter ended in a 6-0 win for Les Bleus in Paris, including a brace by Olivier Giroud.

France have topped their group only twice in their last nine World Cup appearances (1998, 2014). In fact, they’ve won only three of their last 12 group games (D5 L4) – they were against Togo, Honduras and Switzerland.

France’s last 23 goals in the competition have been scored from inside the box, the last goal from distance coming from Lilian Thuram in the 1998 semi-final against Croatia.

Australia have reached the knockout stages of the World Cup on one occasion, it was in 2006 when they were eliminated in the last 16 by eventual winners Italy.

Australia have won only two of their 13 games at the World Cup, against Japan in 2006 (3-1) and Serbia in 2010 (2-1), and kept only one clean sheet (0-0 v Chile, 1974).

Tim Cahill has scored five of Australia’s 11 goals at the World Cup (45%). He’s one of nine players to have scored in each of the last three World Cups.

ObServer Sport Pundit’s prediction

I have gone for France to win this. Yes, they had a bad warm-up result against USA last weekend. But I just expect Australia to sit back and defend and it will just be a matter of time before France break them down.

PUNDIT PREDICTS: France 3-0 Australia